August 12, 2007
There are times in life where you bit off more than you can chew.
Whether it be a project at school or a really difficult task at work. Things you blunder into and then realize that you can’t talk your way out of.
Everyone has them.
For me it was fighting.
You see, I have a bit of a big mouth. It gets me into A LOT of trouble.
I open it and I can’t stop myself some times.
Take in point, right now.
He was a big bastard. I was running my usual route through the college bars. Easy pickings. Especially around here. Lots of rich dumb kids with fat wallets and too much money to know what to do with. When they get a little drunk, I may slip in and relieve them of some of those wallets. Like I said, easy pickings. There are times when I slip up. Tonight was one of those times. There was a big crowd, game night. I think the home team won. I don’t really follow that kind of thing though. There were a lot of them in the bar tonight, lots of drinks. I managed to “acquire” a few wallets fairly easy.
That’s when I grabbed the wrong one.
The one belonging to the fist currently going for my face.
I dodged the swing easily, deflecting it. The big bastard stumbled, taking a chair with him.
I suppose I should have just run before.
I had to say something stupid though.
Who knew his girlfriend’s boobs really were fake.
“You little shit” he grunted, untangling himself from the chair.
There was a circle of people surrounding us now, most of his frat brothers. They were all drunkenly cheering him on. They were also making it impossible for me to escape. Which was a bad thing. I didn’t like to fight unless I was pushed into it. I might have had a big mouth but I wasn’t hot tempered. Unless of course someone made a comment about my size. Being five two and growing up on the wrong side of town, it was something that didn’t mix well. I learned to defend myself at an early age. As much as I tried to avoid the fights, I live for them too.
I got that from my old man.
He was a prize fighter when he wasn’t drinking.
Or wailing on me.
He was gone now though. Killed by the very same bottle he loved so much.
Mom didn’t stick around much after that either.
It was all water under the bridge now though. I was doing good. I took care of myself.
I usually kept my nose clean.
I tried to keep my mouth shut.
Another fist went for my face again. This guy really liked to push it. He had a lot of rich but he was slow too. It helped that he was very drunk too. He couldn’t keep his balance. He had a lot of power. He was fit too. I could see some pattern to the punches he was throwing. It told me one of two things. He either got into a lot of fights like me or he was trained. Thankfully for me, I was no slouch either. I deflected his punch again but this time he was ready. He brought up his knee, faster than I could react. He would have caught me with it if not for his friend.
“Brian, you’re going to kill him...”
At least I was pretty sure it was his friend.
The bastard---Brian---stopped his assault.
It was a good thing too.
It was at that moment that I noticed both his eyes and fists were glowing green.
I took a step back. The last thing I needed was for some enraged, super powered brute to pound me into the ground. Taking a step back seemed to be the right thing to do because Brian took his anger out on a table, burning some kind of acid straight through it when he touched it with his hand. I shuddered. That could have been me. That didn’t end things though. His friend and a couple of others started to argue with him. While that was going on, I silently started to slip out of there.
It was another good thing.
As I was creeping away, the door man finally took notice.
I cursed, ducking my head into my hood.
Thankfully I wasn’t what he was interested in.
I let him pass before making my way to the door.
I didn’t let out the breath I was holding until I was a block away.
Even then I was pretty jumpy.
I gained control of my senses a few seconds later before wandering over to a bench. I slung my pack around, placing it on the bench. I opened it up, sticking my new acquisition with the rest. Six wallets tonight. Not a bad haul. It still wasn’t the best though. It was getting harder and harder. Most of the beat cops knew me now so I had to stray away from the streets. I got picked up last week but because I was still only a minor and managed to dump my haul, they had to let me go. It was the reason I started bar hopping. I was small enough to slip in with the crowds without being noticed. Unfortunately, thanks to tonight I was probably going to have to strike that place off my list for a while.
I needed to find something else.
First I needed to be somewhere else too.
Pulling out my phone, I checked the time.
I was late.
Grabbing my pack, I made a mad dash toward the subway.
The car was only half full.
I sat on the bench, watching the various people trying to ignore me. There were a few adults that kept giving me looks though. It was after ten at night and contrary to what I looked like, I was actually fourteen. I’m not going to lie, I looked like a little kid. I blame my father’s Italian heritage. Sure he was a prize fighter but it was lightweight. The man himself was barely five seven but he fought like a beast. He was a bit of local legend, everyone who was anyone around here knew “The Spitfire”. They also knew I was The Spitfire’s boy. Which wasn’t a good thing anymore. Dad rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. It’s why I didn’t call myself De Luca. It wasn’t a good thing to be associated with my father anymore.
“Oh sweetie, its far too late for you...”
I turned to the old woman sitting nearby and smiled.
I was planning to let it slide until she started talking again.
“A little thing like you...”
I grit my teeth.
Clenching my fists at my sides, I fired off a couple of words that turned her face white. She quickly stood up and walked to the other side of the car. I smirked. Served her right. After the night I had, I wasn’t going to let some old crone bully me. I was getting really tired of being so short. I was seriously considering finding myself a good source of testosterone to jump start my slow puberty. As soon as I started to get taller, people would stop pushing me around so much. Then I wouldn’t have to run my mouth. Unfortunately, no one was willing to sell me any steroids. Trust me, I tried. They kept laughing at me which only made me angrier.
My phone rang a second later.
I didn’t have to look to see who it was.
“Where are you?”
I groaned. “I’m on my way.”
“You do good?”
After Dad drank himself to death and Mom bolted, I had no family. I bounced around in foster care for a couple of years before I decided to take things into my own hands. By that I mean, I bolted. I was on the streets for a while, trying to fend for myself. I fell in with a group of kids who taught me how to pickpockets. It was good for a while. Then one of the boys---Tony---decided we needed to upgrade to B&E, so he picked a pawn shop owned by a “cripple”. Because I was the new kid, it was my job to go in and snatch something. I should have known it was all an attempt to make fun of the “little guy”.
It wasn’t all bad though.
That’s where I met Maury.
Actually that’s where I got caught by Maury.
He was the “cripple” that Tony wanted to rob from. If only Tony knew. Yes, Maury was a cripple. In so much that he used a wheelchair. At first, our relationship was pretty tense. After catching me, he debated turning me over to the cops but didn’t want the attention. So he made me work for him. I thought he meant sweeping the floors of his shop or something. It turned out though that it was a lot more. The pawn shop was actually a front. Maury was indebted to the mob, he was actually a Fence. In return for “working” for him, he let me stay in his spare room. Apparently I reminded him a lot of him when he younger.
It was my “moxie”.
He never stopped reminding me of it.
He knew my Dad of course but never beat around the bush about it. Maury always told you what he thought of things. To him Dad was an “insufferable S.O.B.” I think he was the only one who truly knew it. Well besides, Mom and me. Maury knew Mom too. It was hard not too. She was a bit of a beauty. It always threw people how a short, Italian tough could ever land a tall, Nordic beauty like her. When I took her last name, no one seemed to care. Then again, I never looked like her. It was hard to connect me to Mom, especially because I looked so much like Dad.
Maury sounded urgent.
“Five” I lied.
Hey, I had to keep some of the haul for myself.
“You ain’t lying to me are you, boy?”
How did he always know.
“Of course not!”
There was a long pause before he spoke again. “Well hurry back...”
He hung up like usual.
It was nice to see that he cared.
I shoved my phone back into the pouch of my hoodie.
We reached the next stop.
I watched the doors open, wondering if there were any slim pickings.
A handful of people got on.
None of them seemed worth it.
Well none except the smug jerk.
He was wearing an expensive suit, his dark hair slicked back. He stared around the car, sneering at all of us. It was as if he was too good to be here with us. He pissed me off already. I gave him another quick look over, wondering if he was worth the trouble. He was definitely rich enough. His suit alone was worth it. Those shoes were pretty expensive too. My eyes went to the pin in his lapel though. It was the easiest thing on him to grab. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to happen. He was nervous, twitching about like he expected someone to rob him. I’d never get close. I sighed then smiled when I looked at his briefcase.
He made the first mistake.
He left it sitting next to him.
It was a really nice one too.
It was metal, very high end. I’d seen quite a few like them. It, like the rest of him, probably cost more than I’d ever see. Looking at him pissed me off. Guy’s like him made me sick, flaunting their money like that. Just like that jerk from the bar. Thinking about it, made me boil up inside. I couldn’t get even with Brian but I sure as hell could with this prick. I needed to time it right now. I watched him. He didn’t get off at the next stop which was perfect. I didn’t need to get off for three more stops. If I was lucky, I could time my snatch of the case to coincide with my leaving. I could even make it look like an accident.
First though, I needed to get closer.
I waited another few minutes before making my move.
I stood up, licking my lips.
I walked slowly over.
I stood close but not too close.
“Hey Mister, you know what time it is?”
I sometimes played the schoolboy.
It worked about fifty percent of the time.
He snorted. “Time for little boy’s like you to be in bed.”
Now, I definitely wanted to rob him.
I smiled but instead of walking away, I sat down next to him. I started to kick my feet, playing up what he thought me to be. Being short had its advantages at times. Most people underestimated me. They saw me as nothing more than a kid and rarely paid attention. That’s usually how I got them. They lowered their guard enough for me to slip in and disappear before they even noticed. Mr. Prick was barely paying me any attention, just like I hoped.
I sat and waited.
It didn’t take long.
He stood as the car came to a stop. It was still one ahead of mine but I could easily grab the next one after I relieved him of his “goods”. I made sure to stay behind him as we stepped off together. He never noticed me. I would have to be quick. As soon as I saw an opening, I planned on taking it. It didn’t take long. I followed him for about ten minutes before he stopped at a news stand to buy a paper. While he was doing so, he set down his briefcase. I slowly started to make my way toward it, twitching with excitement. I was almost there when someone else walked up, carrying an identical case.
This newcomer was wearing a heavy overcoat and dark sunglasses.
It was odd for late summer.
I paused, less than a foot away.
“You have it then?” asked the Newcomer.
Mr. Prick nodded. “Its all there, if the price is right.”
The Newcomer nodded. “My boss finds it acceptable.”
The Newcomer reached into his coat, taking out an fat envelope. My eyes nearly bulged out of my head at the sight of it. That was a lot of money. I watched as Mr. Prick picked it up and put into an inner pocket. I licked my lips. Would I be able to lift that? I shook my head. Did I want to lift it? My eyes quickly drifted back to the briefcase, Mr. Prick’s one. If whatever was inside cost that much, it must have been something amazing. If I brought it to Maury, I bet his bosses would jump through the roof for it.
I waited for the right moment.
It had to be quick.
I found it a split second later when both men took their eyes off the cases.
I thought I was pretty fast. After all I was used to grabbing things and running.
This time I wasn’t fast enough.
Sure I got ahold of the case but they saw me too.
“Hey!” shouted Mr. Prick.
One of them grabbed for me but got my pack instead. I pulled hard, the strap came free. I stumbled forward. It was a little insurance I rigged up just in case. Sure it sucked to lose my pack and my haul for the night but I had something so much better.
I started to run. I had a head start. I could hear both of them pounding the pavement behind me though. I still had the advantage though. Most of this part of town was my town. I knew all the secrets and dark places. Running up the stairs and onto the street, I took a quick left and made a dash for an alley. I could hear them behind me still but they were slowing down. I darted into the darkness but didn’t stop. I zipped down the alley, across a side street and into another alley. They stopped following me after I went over a fence. I could hear them shouting.
There were a couple of death threats.
Nothing new for me.
I didn’t stop running until I was a block away.
Panting, I hefted the briefcase. I spun it around, hoping I could open it without too much trouble.
It had one of those combination locks.
Well I guess Maury has his work cut out for him tonight.
I smirked and started for home.
Maury’s Pawn Shop was a hole in the wall. A real crap shack wedged between two much larger buildings. It was out of the way though so most people passed it by. Which was bad for the type of business that a respectable shop might crave but very good for the type of business that doesn’t draw a lot of attention. It was a double edged sword, one that worked in both instances for him. It worked for me too. If not for the secluded nature of this place, Tony would have never chosen to rob it. If he didn’t make that choice, I never would have met Maury.
Stepping across the street, I kept my head low.
It was a force of habit.
The Feds knew Maury was here. They knew what he did for a living. Every couple of weeks there would be a florist’s van parked across the street. Fairly inconspicuous except for the fact that there was no shop to go with it. Maury said it was a warning. It was Them trying to tell him they knew what he was doing. The problem is, they didn’t want Maury. They wanted his boss. The problem is, the organization that Maury worked for wasn’t that sloppy. They had a great system. They never sent the same person twice and said person always came alone. Maury only fenced small things like jewelry and kept fifteen percent.
It was all low key stuff.
I had my suspicions though.
I knew Maury wasn’t telling me everything.
He probably thought he was protecting me but I could see the signs. He was hiding something, something very important. He probably thought I was too young to handle it. The thing was, I stopped being a “kid” a long time ago. My father had seen to that. The best I could do at this point was sit by and wait for him to trust me with everything. Maury was not the kind of man to trust easily though. It took him two weeks to tell me his last name and even longer than that to actually let me leave the place on my own. Any time I wanted to go somewhere he’d ask one of his friends to accompany me. He said it was for my own safety because it was a dangerous neighborhood but I suspected there were other reasons.
He probably thought I was some kind of snitch.
As it was, he was still a paranoid man.
I went around the back of the shop and knocked on the backdoor three times. I paused for a second then looked up at the camera.
“Its me” I said, annoyed.
A second later there was a buzz. Rolling my eyes, I grunted as I pushed open the heavy metal door.
The back room of the shop was very cramped. There were wall to wall metal shelves that dominated the whole room. It was a good thing I was so small because a larger person would never be able to navigate through them. I’m not sure how Maury managed with his wheelchair. When I first got here, I wasn’t even allowed in the back room. It was where Maury kept all his “good stuff”. The good stuff as it turned out was nothing but miscellaneous electronics. Though he denied it, I was pretty certain he was some kind of Devisor. I mean why else would he cherish any of this junk?
Meandering my way through the metal maze, I found Maury in the store proper, tending to a young couple.
They were looking at the display, giddy with excitement.
I tried to stay out of the way.
A few minutes later, the woman squealed as her boyfriend put a ring on her finger. They happily paid for it and made their way toward the door. Maury had a happy smile plastered on his face the whole time. It always amazed me that he kept his store open this late for customers. He told me he had his reasons. I looked at the couple as they started to leave. At first they looked fairly normal, until they turned around and I saw that the girl had a tail sticking out the back of her skirt. I smiled. Maury called it his “Late Night Clientele”.
He waved them off then closed the door and flipped his sign to CLOSED.
Turning toward me, he frowned.
He no doubt noticed my pack was missing.
“I got sloppy.”
He sighed then pointed at the case. “You make up for it?”
“This is why I got sloppy’.
I walked into the room, setting the briefcase down on the display case.
Maury came rolling over.
Most people were apprehensive around Maury. He was a large guy, his black, greasy hair slicked with gray. At one time he probably struck a pretty imposing figure. That was before the accident though. He didn’t like to talk about it much, only that something heavy fell on his legs. I looked down at the two stumps just below his knees. Then I looked at the chair, it was a custom job, with a built in computer and everything. It looked pretty state-of-art. He didn’t like to talk about that either, only that he “knew a guy”. All the more reason I suspected he was hiding a lot more than he was willing to tell.
Maury looked from me to the case and back again. “Where did you get it?”
I smirked. “There was this dick on the train. Rich snob. I followed him to some kind of exchange. The other guy passed over a wad of cash for the case. I figured there had to be something good inside, so I snatched it...”
Maury stared at me for a few then grunted. “Did they see your face?”
“No” I lied quickly.
I was inwardly cursing.
Honestly, I have no idea. They did have my pack though.
I knew that wasn’t going to be a problem. There was nothing in there that could be traced back to me. Even if I had something like that, I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to leave it in there.
“Ok, Mox, let’s see what we’ve got?”
He took a hold of the case, scrutinizing it a bit. He tried to open the combination lock a few times by feel but when that didn’t work, he got some of his tools. Generally, cracking a case like that would probably take a good twenty minutes. In the case of Maury though, he was a bit of a pro. He bypassed the lock all together and working rather quickly, managed to break the hinges of the case with one of his custom “tools”. It was a strange device that looked like a combination wrench and screwdriver. Once again adding credence to my theory that he was a closeted Devisor.
I held my breath as he set his tool down and slowly lifted the top part off the case.
What I saw though was total disappointment.
It was a bunch of papers.
Who the hell paid a bunch of money for papers?
I looked at Maury but he didn’t look disappointed.
Not in the least.
“What is it?”
He didn’t say anything for a long time. Instead, he picked up the first sheet. I looked at it. There was a lot of words on there with some math equations or something. I didn’t understand much of it. Its not that I couldn’t read it, I could. Its just all of it looked like science crap. Science was never my strong point at school. School wasn’t really my strong point either. I was of the mind that I could learn more things by doing than sitting in a classroom listening to someone drone on and on for hours. Its why I rarely went anymore. Something that Maury and I constantly fought about. The thing is though, he wasn’t my official Guardian. As far as school was concerned, I wasn’t Michael Crawford either.
“Greg...what did you do...”
He called me Greg.
He never calls me Greg.
I stared at the papers some more. There was something about them that I recognized, at the top of the page. The letterhead was an E. I’d seen that before somewhere but I’m not sure where.
“What is it?” I asked, pointing to the E.
He sighed. “Echelon Corp.”
He said it like I should know what it was but at my shrug and blank look, he continued.
“They’re a genetics corporation. On paper, they’re all pretty legit. Trying to crack the human genome and all that bull. Behind the scenes though, they have half a dozen government contracts, military contracts. Rumor has it they’ve been trying to design their own mutant.’
He picked up the stack of papers in the case and gasped again.
Underneath them was some foam backing, inserted into it were three things: a flashdrive and two tiny glass vials filled with some strange red liquid.
I watched as the color drained from his face.
Intrigued, I reached for one of the little vials but he smacked my hand away.
“Don’t touch it!” he snapped, quickly shoving the papers back on top.
“What is it?” I asked, rubbing my hand.
It was the first time anyone had gotten physical with me since Dad.
I stepped back a bit.
“Its dangerous, that’s what it is...”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about but I noticed something else amongst those papers. It was a folded note of some sort. Maury wasn’t paying attention as he started to mumble to himself, so I helped myself to the note. I turned my back from him and unfolded to read:
Z, Here’s the stuff. Make sure you have the money ready, S.
Things were starting to click.
Z and S? That must have been the two guys from earlier.
The stuff must have been those vials?
Maury finally noticed and snatched the note. He read it quickly and groaned.
“What the fuck did you do, Mox?”
So he was back to calling me by my nickname again.
Now I was really scared.
Maury didn’t say anything to me for a long time after that. He took the papers back out and started reading them. Bored, I leaned against the display case and waited. I tried to distract myself by looking around the shop. The thing was, I’d seen everything a hundred times already. Maury had a lot of junk on display, most of it old and way before my time. A good portion of it I cataloged and placed on the shelves myself. We made a good team. I couldn’t help but wonder what he did before I came along. I mean, some of the things were on top shelves. Some of it was even there before we met, gathering dust. I asked him about it once but he changed the subject. So I stopped prying. It was just another one of his many secrets.
“Well, the way I see it, we don’t have a lot of options...” he finally said, after reading everything.
He had my full attention.
“We’ve stumbled upon a bit of corporate espionage...” he continued with a heavy sigh. “The good news is that they don’t know we have this so there’s some time.”
First, I was glad he said, “we”. It meant he wasn’t fully blaming me for all of this.
Second, he only mentioned the good news.
“What’s the bad?”
He grunted, taking one of the vials from the case. “They’re going to be looking for this shit...”
No one came looking.
Not that it didn’t stop Maury from being paranoid about it. He shut down the shop, told his regulars it was due to some last minute regulations. He even put down the security shutters. That was the least sane bit of his paranoia. The insane part pertained to me. He wouldn’t let me leave. He all but locked me in our little apartment above the shop. Told me it was safer that way. Well at least until he could make a few phone calls. He made more than a few. After every call, he kept emphasizing to me how dangerous all of this was. To prove a point, he took the case and its contents and locked it up in the safe downstairs. He wanted to make sure they were safe and secure until he could figure out what to do.
He didn’t really have an answer until two days later.
When I woke up on the morning of the fourteenth, I came downstairs to see a frantic Maury zipping about the store like the Energizer Bunny.
“What’s going on?” I asked groggily before taking a bite of my pop-tart.
He barely noticed me.
He was grabbing useless things, shoving them into a bag before going back to grab more. I watched him for a few more seconds only to finally realize he was packing. I looked around, there were two other bags already full. It was now very clear what was going on. Maury was running. Looking from the bags, I finally saw his face. He was scared. I could see the fear. Seeing him like that scared me a bit too. Maury was many things, a coward was not one of them. He was one of the toughest guys I knew. He had to be if he was able to deal with what happened to him and not collapse under the depression of it all.
“Something happened, what is it?” I asked, trying to be forceful with my question this time.
He finally stopped moving to look at me. “They’re looking for us!”
Who was looking for us?
I finished off my pop-tart before asking. “Who is They?”
He sighed. “Just...go pack a bag...”
He was scared.
That only meant one thing. They were looking for us. I started to shake as I quickly made my way back up the stairs. The apartment above the shop was small, barely big enough for Maury. Somehow we managed. Making my way through the tiny living room, I rushed down the short hallway to my bedroom. It had no door for obvious reasons and the entryway was widened for wheelchair access. Like much of the rest of the place. My room was fairly plain for a teenager. I didn’t clutter it with useless junk like most kids my age. It had a bed, a dresser and a desk. There was a closet too and a tiny window but that was facing the wall of the large building next door. Not exactly the best view.
I grabbed a spare backpack from my closet and quickly emptied all my dresser drawers onto my bed. I grabbed the essentials first, underwear and socks. Enough for a few days. Then I grabbed a few shirts and a couple pairs of jeans. I left them folded neatly while I retrieved a duffle to put them in. I didn’t have a lot of clothes to begin with, just enough to get by. We had a laundry mat down the street so washing them was an easy task. I made sure I put what I needed in the duffle until it was full. Then I started working on filling my pack. There were only a few things I needed to put in there, one being my laptop.
It was a gift from Maury last year. He told me it had all the bells and whistles attached.
Which meant it was safe to use.
Shoving it into my pack, I went over to the far corner of the room and popped the loose floor board there. Its where I kept my “stash”. There was over a thousand dollars in cash there plus some gold jewelry that I could pawn if I was desperate. The stash had been Maury’s idea. He said you might never know when you need it. I guess now was one of those times. I shoved everything in my pack before walking over to my nightstand and grabbing the only thing in the room that had any true sentimental value to me: the framed picture of my mother. It was an older picture, back before I was born. She was smiling and looked happy. That’s why I kept it. The last few years we were together, Mom didn’t smile.
It was Dad’s fault.
I HATED him for taking that from her.
I took apart the frame, folded the photo in half and stuck it in my back pocket. I wanted her as close to me as possible.
Satisfied, I grabbed my two bags and left the room.
I didn’t even look back.
Maury was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. He looked anxious about something. I was about to ask him what was up when I noticed we weren’t alone. There was a big man in a dark suit standing nearby. My first instinct was to run but I realized very quickly that Maury was not anxious about this man. He holding something in his hand, a white envelope. I looked from it back to the big man though. Maury might not have been anxious with him standing nearby but I was. He was huge with thick shoulders and a shaved head. HE had this vacant look on his face and if he hadn’t moved to itch his nose, I would have sworn he was a statue.
Maury seemed to notice my apprehension and chuckled. “Mox, this is Hank. He’s an...associate of mine from before...”
I looked from the large man to Maury’s legs and back again.
“This the kid, boss?” asked Hank, his voice predictably deep.
Maury nodded. “Yes, Hank this is Greg. I need you to take him to the farm, just like we discussed.”
What the hell was going on?
“Hank, could you please take his bags to the car?”
Hank held out one of his giant hands, waiting. It took me a second or two to realize what he wanted before placing both my bags in it. He held them with ease by the straps and slowly walked out of the shop. AS soon as he was gone, Maury started to wheel himself further away from the door.
“What’s going on?” I asked, concerned and a tad bit scared.
Maury looked around nervously before he spoke. “The Bliss Society is closer than I thought.”
He said it.
Just hearing the name made me shudder.
There wasn’t a criminal around that didn’t know of The Society. They were a group of supervillains that pretty much ran every bit of criminal activity in this part of the city. I had often suspected that Maury paid them tribute money to keep them off our back. By the looks of things though, it wasn’t enough. They were a dangerous group of psychopaths, ones you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of. That’s what I did too. I got on their wrong side. As soon as Maury realized that the guy from Echelon corp was selling the serum to someone, it didn’t take him long to figure out who. Plus the initial on the note was a dead giveaway, “Z” as in Zodiac, more specifically Mistress Zodiac, the powerful Warper. Some said she could bend time but I was pretty sure that was BS.
Regardless, this was bad news.
We fell silent for a moment. I looked around the shop, it seemed weird for it be closed like this in the middle of the day. Weirder still was to see Maury so nervous. I was nervous too. Ok, not nervous. I was terrified. This was all my fault. If I had just done what I was asked, none of this would be happening. I should have just swiped the jack asses’ wallet or something. Instead I had to get cocky and take the briefcase. It was stupid and now we were both in it deep because of me. I had to do something, something to make this right.
I looked around, trying to find the briefcase.
I noticed earlier that Maury had cleaned out the safe.
Its contents were probably in one of those bags Hank carried out.
I knew Maury though.
I figured him out.
He had no intention of going to the farm with me. No, he was going to try and return what I stole. The thing was, I’d heard stories about what the Society did to people like him. What they were probably going to do to people like me. I couldn’t let that happen to him. He was a good person. Sure he was rough around the edges but he didn’t deserve it. I’m not sure when I made up my mind but I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to let him take the fall for my mistake.
Waiting until Maury was distracted, I slipped away.
If I knew him, he’d have the vials and the flash drive in his office. I made it to the office, convinced this was the right thing to do. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for, Maury didn’t go out of his way to hide them. Why would he. He was planning to return them no doubt. I smiled, picked up one of the dangerous vials and stared at the strange liquid inside. I smirked. All of this trouble for such a simple thing. I was about to put it in my pocket when the whole shop imploded. The concussive blast threw me into the air. I saw the floor for a brief second, disoriented and confused. Before crashing back down to Earth, I thought I saw a figure shrouded in black. It was there for only a split second before reality collapsed around me and darkness consumed my vision.
There was a ringing in my ears when I opened my eyes. The ringing was so loud I could barely hear what was going on around me. Sitting up, I blinked a few times. My body felt heavy. It was like trying to sit up under water. It was only made worse by the tingling pain that tickled every part of me at once. All of which disappeared mere seconds after it started. Groaning, I looked around. I was still in Maury’s office. That surprised me. I could have sworn there was some kind of massive explosion. Sure enough though, everything seemed to be very much intact. Everything seemed to be the same too. Well almost everything. There was a sharp, biting pain in my hand. The very same one that had been holding that little vial seconds before. The realization of what happened dawned on me only seconds later. The vial was still there but shattered. I cursed. The curse was followed by panic. It broke. My hand was a bloody mess and trying to flex my fingers only made it worse. Staggering to my feet, I barely managed to catch myself before throwing up.
My vomiting only stopped when I heard voices.
Looking toward the doorway, I realized that Maury was talking to someone.
Someone who either didn’t notice me or didn’t care.
Wiping my mouth, I tried to ignore my pain to take a look.
I kept low, hoping to stay out of sight.
One of the voices belonged to Maury.
“You’re not welcome here, Clarissa!”
He was talking to a woman. A woman, I soon realized, I’d seen before. It was hard not to know Mistress Zodiac, especially around here. Though the Bliss Society operated behind the scenes, they were very public figures. Everyone knew who they were but no one had any true power to stop them. Mistress Zodiac aka Clarissa Church was well connected politically. So even though the government and several hero groups were aware of her criminal activities, she always managed to get away from incarceration and restitution. She was as slippery as she was beautiful.
The woman who stood before Maury was eye catching. She wore a simple black dress, dark stockings and stiletto heels. She wore her long red hair in an elegant style, one part covering the left side of her face. She looked more like a supermodel than a supervillain which added to her allure. I was mesmerized by her. Even more so when I realized that Hank was lying at her feet. I couldn’t tell if the large man was dead or unconscious. It was clear that there was some kind of struggle, a fight which she easily won.
“Maurice” she said in a soothing tone. “You wound me with your words.”
Maury spit at her but missed completely.
From from some place I couldn’t see, a hand slapped him across the face.
“You will not disrespect the Mistress.”
So she wasn’t alone.
Whoever it was appeared to be just outside my field of vision.
Zodiac waved it off. “Carbuncle, he’s harmless. Good ole Maury here is no longer a threat to anyone.”
I recognized that name immediately.
He was another member of The Society.
Unlike Mistress Zodiac----whose powers were shrouded in mystery and speculation----everyone knew what the little man called Carbuncle could do. He was some kind of Warper, able to teleport himself short distances around the room. It made him impossible to catch and even more impossible to keep ahold of for long. Like most Society members though, he was untouchable. Like most members he was a sycophant too, devoted completely to his beautiful Mistress.
“He shall not harm you in my presence”.
A moment later, he stepped into my view.
He wasn’t much to look at. He was shorter than me, which made me feel tall at the moment. He was bald and walked with a limp. Rumor had it he got the limp during a particularly nasty scuffle with Bolt Lightning, a local speedster hero. He was also a sniveling little cretin, bowing low as he approached her. His devotion to Zodiac is what made her so scary. In fact, every member of her precious Society treated her like a Goddess. One could say she deliberately went out of her way to surround herself with people who worshipped the very ground she walked on.
Zodiac rolled her eyes at his claim. “Why don’t you make yourself useless and find our property.”
As soon as she said property, I felt a cold shiver run down my spine.
I looked at my hand, cursing. There were still tiny shards of glass where the vial broke. I started to feel sick again but I forced it down. Now wasn’t the time to start heaving my guts out again. I needed to get out of here and fast. Looking around the tiny office, I quickly found where Maury had hid the last remaining vial. I cursed my stupidity in all of this. Not only for stealing the briefcase but also for thinking I could make it right. Not only did I not make things right, I made them A LOT worse. One of the vials was gone. Not only gone but possibly inside of me. That part scared me more than anything else, including the two villains in the other room.
I didn’t really pay much attention about most of what Maury told me the last couple of days but I knew one thing. The stuff in the vials was dangerous. Even more so now than before.
What was it going to do to me?
I felt sick again.
What did it do to me?
I staggered, fighting the wave of nausea.
I steadied myself and started to search Maury’s desk. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. I smiled when I grabbed the cigar case. Maury didn’t smoke but he used too. He told me he liked to keep the case around as a reminder to never smoke again. Opening it up, I found it was the perfect size to put the vial in. Making sure the vial was secure, I closed the case and wandered slowly back to the front of the office. They were still talking it seemed and I didn’t like where it was going.
“….make it easy on yourself, Maurice, hand over what doesn’t belong to you and we’ll be on our way.”
At this point, Maury was hovering in mid-air as if someone was holding him up.
No one was touching him though.
I looked over at her, it had to be.
He was gasping, seemingly clawing at an invisible hand at his throat.
“I’m sorry, dear, I can’t quite hear you...”
Whatever had the vice grip on his throat stopped for a moment.
He turned toward me. His eyes looked with mine for a moment. That look spoke to me, it was clear what he wanted.
He gasped out one word:
She smiled and turned to Carbuncle, who was currently smashing things in the corner.
“You heard the man.”
Turning from the door, I quickly rushed over to the window. It was small but thankfully I wasn’t as large as well anyone. It was also wide open on a warm night like this. With skill I didn’t even know I possessed, I slipped right through it while still going. I landed quickly and quietly in the alleyway behind the shop. Not stopping when I hit the ground, I rushed down the alley at a quick run. I hated leaving Maury like this but I knew what he was doing. He was stalling them so I could get away. He was taking the blame for my mistake and I HATED him for it.
This was my fault.
I should be owning up to it not him.
I made it to the end of the alley but knew I couldn’t go anywhere empty handed. Hank’s car was still sitting there, the trunk wide open. I bit my lip and ran toward it. My pack was still sitting on top. I grabbed it, making sure to put the cigar case inside for safe keeping. Sighing with satisfaction, I started to walk away. Don’t look back I silently told myself. I was halfway across the road when I heard a scream. I snapped around and saw it. The shop was a disaster. There was a hole in the front of it. Not a blown out hole from an explosion either. I’m talking an actual hole. Like someone took a giant cookie cutter and made a circle in the front of the building. Through said hole I could see Maury and Mistress Zodiac.
She was stabbing….
I abandoned all thoughts of running away, turned and charged right back at the building. It was stupid but she was going to kill him. He was Maury. We might not always get along or see eye to eye but he cared about me. He took me in when no one else did. He made sure I stayed out of trouble. He gave me food. Helped me lie my way back into school. He gave me a purpose in life again and taught me that no matter what happens, you do what you need to do to survive. I threw that last lesson out the window as I ran toward them.
I felt a surge of adrenaline.
All the pain was gone.
It was replaced by this tingle.
I felt faster.
I felt invincible.
I could do th….
I never saw him. One minute I was running and the next, I was flying through the air as Carbuncle shot his arm out in front of me. I thought clothes lines were a silly move in wrestling. Something fake on TV that looked ridiculous because no one would actually fall for one. It was different when you feel it. One minute you’re running and the next you’re flat on your back. I groaned, looking up at the sky. I think he knocked the wind out of me because I could barely breath.
Then his face appeared.
He was smirking.
“Hello Cutie, going somewhere?”
I tried to say something but I was coughing too much. He reached down and grabbed the front of my shirt, pulling me off the ground like I weighed nothing. I never realized he was that strong. I would have struggled but I was still coughing. He half dragged, half walked me back toward the shop. He pushed me through the hole. I stumbled, falling at Zodiac’s feet. I looked up. Maury was still hovering off the ground, a knife in his side. He wasn’t screaming anymore though. In fact, he wasn’t doing much of anything. His mouth was open though and there was a look of pain on his contorted face.
It was almost as if he was…
“Frozen in time” said Zodiac, finishing my thought.
I looked and thought I saw a slight shimmer of air around him.
It was some kind of bubble.
A time bubble?
Zodiac ignored me, turning back to Carbuncle. “Where did you find her?”
Ok, I knew I was short but I definitely did not look like a girl.
He smirked. “She was running like a bat out of hell, probably coming to save him. It was so darn cute!”
He said the last bit with a giggle.
Zodiac sighed. “Well find out what she knows, I tire of this place. Make sure you clean up the mess too when you’re done. No witnesses, you understand?’
He giggled again. “Yes my Mistress.”
A second later, I felt that rush again.
The one from before.
Then the air itself seemed to open and Mistress Zodiac was gone.
As soon as she vanished, Maury continued to scream and dropped to the ground. I tried to rush to his side but Carbuncle was between us in a blink. He kicked me in the face, sending me sprawling.
“Naughty, naughty” he said, wagging a finger. “We must not ruin the Mistress’s great work before its finished.”
I groaned, spitting blood from my mouth.
I tried to crawl away but he was in front of me again.
“You hurt my arm, you know” he said, rubbing the arm he used to clothesline me with.
He threw another kick at me but this time I tolled away. It took some effort, I was still a little sore from being knocked down like that. I was starting to recover though. I started to push myself to my feet when he was there again. I decided I really hated teleporters. He slammed his elbow into my back dropping me down again. I gasped. This time he managed to kick me again. There was something about that kick. Whereas the others hurt like hell, I felt no pain from that one. Did he whiff it or was it something else?
I think he was just as surprised.
“What’s this?” he asked, taking a step back.
It was the hesitation I needed.
I finally managed to find some time to get to my feet.
The adrenaline was starting to come back. I felt a surge to keep going and that tingle from before. I still hurt all over but the pain was slowly starting to go away. I raised my fists, finally ready to go. He cocked his head and chuckled.
“You think those fists are going to help you, little girl?”
There it was again.
Worst than that, he called me “little”.
One minute he was there then he wasn’t. He came from the side, punching me in the ribs. I staggered but only felt a dull pain. Another punch came again, this time from a different direction. There was even less pain. What the hell was happening? I’d heard stories of adrenaline making you feel almost invincible but this was not what they meant. There was something wrong, something…
Wait, were my hands smaller?
I unclinched my fists for a moment and flexed my fingers. There was something definitely different about them. My fingers were thinner and my nails…
A fist slammed into the side of my head.
“Eyes on the fight, girlie” screamed Carbuncle as he zipped by and disappeared again.
I barely felt it though.
It was so fast and it should have sent me flying but it didn’t.
I only staggered a little bit.
What came next I definitely felt.
It was an overwhelming surge of energy, unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It was followed seconds later by a tingle that coursed through my entire body. I staggered, almost falling to my knees. It was intense and it felt good. Standing up straighter, Carbuncle appeared for another blow. He went for my head again, hoping to catch me off guard like before. I can’t describe what happened next though. He clearly punched me, I felt the dull bump of his knuckles against my forehead. It disappeared immediately though to be followed by a crunch and his hollering scream of pain.
Carbuncle dropped to the ground, wailing.
He was clutching his wrist.
“You broke it….you broke it….”
I looked down at him, rolling around. I saw his hand. The one he hit me with. It was clear that he broke it. It was already starting to swell and bruise. I was still confused about how it happened though. One minute he was punching me and the next. A glow caught my attention. I looked down and saw it. My hands. They were glowing. It was a dull red color but it was definitely there. I stared in stunned awe. They were glowing. I was glowing. It was impossible though. Unless….
I’m a mutant.
I was flabbergasted. I’d read so many stories about mutants. They were always this thing, this unattainable fruit that normal people like me could never taste. Normal. I guess I was wrong about that. It made no sense though. My parents weren’t mutants. As far as I knew my grandparents weren’t either. My father used to groan about it all the time. About how Mutant powers might have made him a big league fighter instead of the small fry that he was. He even talked about trying to find some means to make his dream a reality. It was nonsense of course. There was nothing out there that could turn humans into mutants. Nothing legal anyway…
I looked to my hand, trying to see if there was a scar there.
It was gone.
Reaching up, I brushed some hair behind my ear. All of this long hair was really driving me nuts. Wait, long hair? I paused, grabbing some of my hair. When did it get this long? When did it get this blonde too? I started to panic. There was something wrong. My chest started to heave. There was something wrong there too. Looking down, I saw two bumps pushing my shirt up. No, not possible. I shook my head, trying to ignore it. Thankfully I didn’t have time to concentrate on it because Carbuncle finally recovered enough to stagger to his feet.
“You bitch” he spat, cradling his arm to his chest. “I see it now. You took it, the serum.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about...”
He scoffed. “I’m telling her. The Mistress will come for you. This isn’t over, you’r...”
Whatever he was about to say was cut off by the bullet in his head.
There was a look of surprise on his face before he dropped dead to the ground.
I snapped around quickly.
Hank came staggering out of the shop, a smoking gun in hand. He leaned against the wall, barely able to stand. I was amazed. When I saw him laying there earlier, I thought for sure he was dead.
Hank scoffed, returning his pistol to its holster.
“Let’s hope so” he said with a cough.
I quickly rushed over before he fell over. I reached for him but he stopped me with a hand. It took me a second to realize that the glow in my hands was starting to pulse. I stepped back, absently touching a dumpster nearby. As soon as I did though, the whole thing exploded. The blast sent me to my knees. Shit. It hurt like hell too. The world started to spin for about a minute but I finally managed to recover. When I did, I hurt all over. It was like I could suddenly feel all of Carbuncle’s punches. Groaning, I did my own staggering.
It was actually Hank that caught me from falling.
“You ok?” he asked, I nodded. “Good, now you mind telling me who you are?”
So it was true.
I had changed.
It wasn’t just my hair or my chest, I was…
“I’m Greg” I said, which caused him to raise his eyebrow.
I shrugged. “I think I manifested?”
He stared at me for a while. Then finally turned toward the building. “We have to get Maury out of here.”
Maury, of course.
How could I forget about Maury.
“He’s alive?” I asked, excited and relieved.
Hank nodded. “He is but he needs a doctor.”
As if on cue, there was sirens in the background, coming our way.
“There’s an ambulance...”
Of course not.
It took us some time to get Maury moving. We just managed to get him in the car and away before the first black and white arrived. I took one look back at our shop, my home, before we drove off. I sighed. I convinced myself a long time ago that it wasn’t a permanent home. Knowing what Maury did for a living and what I did for him, it was only a matter of time before it came to an end. I just never thought the Bliss Society would be the ones to bring it all crashing down. Just thinking about it made me angry. That bitch and her little man. I couldn’t help but smile as I relived him dying over and over in my head. Sure, I was stunned at first but the bastard had it coming.
Hey, I’m no saint.
He was going to kill me though.
They tried to kill Maury.
His moan brought me from my thoughts. The two of us were in the back seat together, he was barely conscious now. I was doing everything I could to stem the flow of blood. The only good thing about all of this was that that bitch didn’t finish him off fully. Her time bubble or whatever had kept him from dying. It was what he needed, according to Hank. He said he had medical training but only enough to keep someone alive for a short time. Maury needed a doctor but we couldn’t go to the hospital. It was too risky. The Society didn’t just have their hands in crime around here. They owned everything.
They’d be looking for us there.
“Where are we going?” I asked, frantic, keeping the towel firmly pressed in Maury’s wound.
Hank didn’t answer, instead he asked a question. “How’s he doing?”
I shrugged. “He’s bleeding a lot.’
The big man cursed. He kept the car steady though.
When we first started, his driving was a bit erratic. He was hurt too. That blast of whatever that knocked me off my feet had clearly gotten him as well. But whereas I got a tiny bit of it, he got the full brunt of it. There was a cut on his forehead that was still bleeding and he had tiny cuts and bruises all over. It almost looked like someone had put him in a giant dryer on a tumble setting. He looked how I felt. All the damage I “absorbed” earlier had come back. I ached all over. Whatever “power” I possessed was gone now. The glow dissipated as soon as I touched that dumpster and made it explode.
I still didn’t really have a handle on it.
Or other things…
I couldn’t think about it.
I’d worry about it later.
“Where are we going?” I asked again, this time more determined to get an answer.
He didn’t answer right away.
We were trying to obey the traffic laws as much as we could as we sped through the city. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of traffic. Most people stayed off the streets when they saw fire and smoke around here. They knew what it meant usually. Which we were using to our advantage. It was only a matter of time before a super responded too and that’s the last thing we needed.
“We know a doctor. She works on the down low. She can help.’
That’s all he’d say on it.
It took us another ten minutes to get there. This “doctor” of theirs lived not too far. She apparently operated out of an old clinic. The funny thing is, I’d seen this place before. I used to pass it a lot on my way to school. I just thought it was another of the many rundown and abandoned places around here. It would appear that someone thought to repurpose some of it. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers. I helped Hank get Maury out of the car and we carried him over to a heavy, fortified metal door with a single slot. Like those old gangster movies.
Hank banged on the door.
A minute or so later, a pair of purple eyes were staring back at us through the slot.
“Mags, let us in, we’ve got an emergency!”
There was only a slight hesitation before the door was opened.
The woman on the other end was in her thirties, dark hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun. She wore a white lab coat that had seen better days. It was her eyes though that drew my attention. Not only were they purple but they were a bit larger than a normal human’s. That meant she was most definitely a mutant. I was a bit weary after the encounter I just had but Hank smiled at her as she let us inside.
“Who’s the girl?” she asked, causing me to wince.
There was no way I was getting used to that.
I answered for myself. “I’m with him” I said, pointing to Maury.
She nodded then quickly took charge.
She led us down the narrow hall to a room with some equipment that was clearly not hers. At least not at first anyway. There was a lot of state of the art things in here. The shiny medical equipment was a great contrast to the dingy, dirty and poorly lit room. There was a smell that I couldn’t quite place as well. I crinkled my nose but there was no way I was ever going to forget it.
As soon as Hank laid Maury down on one of the tables, she turned to us.
“I’m not going to be able to work if you two are hovering. There’s a room down the hall” she said, pushing us toward the door. Then a second later, she shouted a name. “Tina!”
A moment or so later, the most gorgeous creature I’d ever seen came toward us.
She was a literal goddess on Earth.
Tall, leggy and bouncing as she walked.
She wore a tiny tank top and shorts and I couldn’t help but look at her “assets” as they strained to stay in place.
This was the type of girl that boys my age dreamed about.
When she got closer, I noticed her hair. It was long, wavy and blue.
“Hi, I’m Tina” she said in a bubbly voice. “What’cha need, Aunt Megs?”
“Take her” she said, pointing a thumb at me. “Get her washed up then come back here, I’m gonna need those hands of yours.”
Tina looked at me and smiled weakly before looking into the room.
She shuddered but nodded.
I tried to look into the room again too but she blocked me with her body. Then, she spun around and giggled before taking my hand. I wanted to protest but touching her hand made me feel all warm and gooey inside. So instead, I just let her lead me down the hall. At the end of which was a flight of stairs that led to a second floor that was surprisingly put together a bit better than the first. The paint on the walls was not peeling and there was actual light up here. There was no smell either. It was clear that downstairs was some kind of clinic and up here was where the two of them lived. As we walked down the hall, I thought I caught sight of some kind of living area but we didn’t go that far.
Tina stopped in front of a door.
“The shower is in there. I’ll bring you some towels. Just leave those” she said, pointing to my clothes. “And I’ll get you something fresh to wear.”
I nodded dumbly, she smiled and let go of my hand.
I watched her as she sashayed down the hall.
She was mesmerizing.
I stood stunned until she disappeared into another room. As soon as she gone, I blinked.
Wait, what just happened?
Shaking the cobwebs from my brain, I walked into the bathroom. It was tiny but it smelled a lot better than I was used too. It was clean as well. I paused in the doorway though. I knew what I was about to do and I’m not sure I could do it. I still wasn’t even how any of this happened. Did the serum make me a woman too? Or was it something else? If it was something else then why me? It made no sense. Boys didn’t just turn into girl in a blink of an eye and yet here I was. Was I some kind of freak? No, I shook that thought away immediately. There were plenty of people out there that wanted this. They weren’t freaks.
Then I finally got the courage.
Like ripping off a band-aid, I went straight to the mirror. I needed to see what damage was done.
I gasped as soon as I saw myself.
Ok so not exactly Mom but this girl definitely looked like her.
I’m not sure how to respond to that. Mom was gorgeous, she could have been a supermodel. I never understood why she chose Dad. I never understood a lot of things about her though. Chief among them being why she left. Looking at my reflection now though, I couldn’t help but tear up a bit. I looked like her clone with the long white blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. No, not her clone. Her daughter. That thought gave me some pause. I was a daughter now, her daughter. It was a strange thing. Not as strange as looking into a mirror and not seeing myself anymore.
Leaning closer, I tried to see if there was any of male me left.
I saw a bit of it here and there. The thing is, my face was never all that masculine to begin with. When I was a little boy, a lot of people mistook me for Mom’s daughter. They kept telling her she had such a beautiful little girl. I couldn’t help but scoff at that now. It used to piss off my father though. He hated having a “sissy looking” son as he called me. That’s why he used to bring me around to the Gym whenever he could. He was trying to “man me up” and it worked for the most part. I spent almost every waking hour in the Gym with him, up until his death of course. The thing is, I didn’t hate it.
I HATED the man but not what he tried to do for me.
Thanks to him, I could take care of myself.
Thanks to him, all those bullies at school found out real fast not to mess with “Little Greggy”
I wonder what all those assholes---including Dad----would think of me now.
I finally stepped away from the mirror.
I took a look down at myself and grunted. Everything felt wrong. I couldn’t believe I never noticed it until a little while ago. I’m not sure when my gender flipped but it was clear how my clothes felt. It was a good thing that I dressed a bit on the baggy side. As it was, everything felt a little tighter. Especially my pants. Grunting, I struggled to get them off. The weird thing is, I didn’t look any fatter. In fact, I felt a lot thinner. Its just my hips were different. My legs looked different too, smoother and longer. I ran my hand over them. They were soft too. I never felt skin that soft before. It felt nice. I smiled as I continued to stroke them until I got to my boxers then quickly pulled my hand away.
Shit, I almost…
Shaking off the thought, I quickly shrugged off my hoodie then pulled my shirt over my head.
Wow, I really was thin.
I turned toward the mirror.
I saw a girl standing there in a pair of boxers.
I instinctively went to cover my new breasts but stopped when I saw my six pack.
Wait, where did that come from?
I wasn’t a wimp by any means but my body never looked like that. It wasn’t the only place that had muscle either. I flexed one of my arms, grinning. Holy shit. I looked like one of those Fitness girls. I posed for a few seconds, trying to take in every angle. It was like my body transformed itself into the ideal female form. A form that could easily pass for one of those sexy beach volleyball chicks. A small part of me felt proud but the rest of me felt sick as I admired myself. I was a guy, I shouldn’t be happy to have a sexy body like this. Especially a female one.
I finally had to look away.
What at first I admired, I suddenly detested.
Depressed, I picked up my discarded clothes. I almost put them back on until I saw they were covered in blood. I groaned. That’s why Maggie had wanted me to get cleaned up. Grunting, I tossed them into the corner then decided I should do what I was told. I got into the shower as quickly as I could. Turning on the water and feeling it flow over my body was a whole new sensation. One that I was unwilling to watch with my eyes open. I did my best trying to wash myself with my eyes closed but mostly I just stood under the water in hopes it would do the job for me. I’m not going to lie, I was embarrassed as all hell.
I didn’t stay in long.
Shutting off the water and stepping out, I found a towel and some folded clothes sitting on the toilet. Tina must have put them in here while I was in the water. I grabbed the towel, slowly doing my best to get myself dry. I tried drying my hair but I wasn’t used to it being so long. In the end I just gave up. Once I was satisfied my body was water free, I tackled the clothes. I groaned as soon as I started to pick through them. I guess I was expecting the bra and panties, they seemed simple enough. It was the shirt, denim skirt and leggings I didn’t much care for. I held up the skirt first, to inspect the damages.
She has to be kidding me…
I checked it against my legs just to be sure.
Yep, it was way too short.
There was no way she expected me to wear this?
The shirt wasn’t any better.
It exposed a lot of my belly.
I had half a mind to march out of the bathroom and sock her.
Instead, I picked the towel off the floor and wrapped it around me. I stopped a second after wrapping it around my waist and wrapped it around my whole body like I saw girls in movies do. Then I poked my head out of the door, looking both ways down the hall.
It wasn’t exactly a shout but was close enough.
She came bounding up the stairs a few seconds later.
“Hey girl, what’s up” she said in that giddy, affectionate tone of hers.
I gave her a look.
“These clothes are...”
“Great aren’t they? They’re too small for me obviously, I wore them when I was your age but I bet they look really cute on you...”
She trailed off when she realized I was still wearing the towel.
She frowned. “What’s wrong kiddo?”
“You can’t expect me to wear this stuff” I hissed, waving the skirt in her face.
She gave me a strange look. “What’s wrong with this skirt, I used to love it!”
She snatched it from my hand and slowly pushed me back into the bathroom. Before I could stop her, she had the towel off of me. Embarrassed, I quickly tried covering every bit of me. She giggled.
“Wow, you really do have a little killer bod. I thought you were hiding something great under all that frump. You’re one hot chica, why would you ever want to hide it?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. One part of me wanted to tell her the truth. The other part of me was too embarrassed by it. I also didn’t want her to look at me like I was a freak or something. I was also pretty sure she’d never believe me. I mean, how often do boys turn into girls during manifestation? I sighed and realized I was going to have to lie to her. It was nothing new for me but lies weren’t leading me to great places these days.
“I’m not used to this kind of stuff...” I said, waving at the clothes she left for me.
I hope it was convincing.
“Bit of a tomboy then?”
“Something like that.”
We talked a bit about it and she agreed that maybe the shirt was a bit too much. She left and returned a minute or so later with another. Unfortunately, she didn’t have anything else that would fit me. She started talking about shopping but I tuned that out. Instead, I concentrated on the clothes. Stepping into the panties were easy. It was a little weird but they were remarkably comfortable. She wasn’t too keen on handing over a pair of hers because it wasn’t sanitary for girls to share but once saw my boxers laying on the bathroom floor, she knew it was an emergency. That got me to look for my old clothes and I realized they weren’t there.
“I put them in the wash” she said, noticing my frantic search.
So there I was.
Realizing I had no other choice now, I proceeded to put on the rest of my borrowed clothes. The bra gave me some problems. Being only fourteen though, my new breasts weren’t nearly as large as I thought they were. Tina tried to reassure me they’d grow in time. I was not looking forward to that. At least this sports bra of hers squashed them down a bit. That didn’t stop it from being majorly weird though. Looking in the mirror, seeing myself in a bra and panties, it was unsettling. My thoughts instantly went to my father and how he’d react if he saw me like this. I shuddered just thinking about it.
“You ok?” asked Tina, rubbing my shoulder.
I nodded, feeling better already.
“Ok then, let’s get the rest of this done then!” she said with that overwhelming enthusiasm of hers.
The rest of it I was definitely more reluctant to put on.
The leggings came next though. They were black and only went to my knees.
“I think they’re too small” I said, struggling.
She giggled. “They’re meant to be like that.”
Were they also meant to be this tight?
The skirt came on next. It was definitely too short. I kept tugging on it, hoping I good stretch it longer. She laughed at my antics. Went the top finally went on, I didn’t like what I saw. There was a pretty girl staring back at me in the mirror. Any guy would give their left “you know what” for a chance to chat her up. In fact I did give it, plus the right one too. I frowned. Why did this have to happen to me? Manifestation was supposed to be this cool and amazing thing. When I was a little kid, I dreamed of one day waking up with superpowers. You’d be a liar if you didn’t think so. The thing was, the truth was a lot scarier than the fiction. Especially these days. It wasn’t getting better either. I saw the news.
The MCO and other organizations were out of control.
It was hard not to turn on the TV and hear about something new and “horrible” going on with mutants.
And now I was one of them.
I looked at my hand.
Thanks to my own stupidity.
“See, pretty cute right?”
That’s the problem.
I wanted to head back downstairs to check on Maury but Tina had other plans. Besides, according to her, the surgery was a success. That was a relief I guess. There was something about her tone though that made me worry. I tried asking her about it but she was more hellbent on “fixing” the rest of me. Whatever that meant. I suppose that’s why the two of us were now in her room. I was a little nervous, especially because she closed the door behind me. I’d never been in a girl’s room before, let alone one with the door shut. I found myself lingering by said door for about a minute, taking a look at this new girl world I was currently in.
Tina kept her room very neat.
Everything was painted a pastel pink, the walls, her furniture, she even had pink curtains. The rest of the room was stuffed animals, clothes and posters. There were a lot of posters on the walls actually, mostly of guys and bands. I saw a few Justin Timberlake, a Fallout Boys poster, even one for that actor I could never remember. He was in the those Mutant Detective movies. I looked around the rest of the room, wondering where to go. I felt like an invader here. An invader who was losing his masculinity by the minute. Tina, seemingly sensed my apprehension and pulled me toward the vanity she had in the corner. She was talking about my hair as she forced me into the chair.
Once again I was face to face with my mother’s young clone.
Tina was plugging in her hair dryer.
“What are you doing?” I asked as she brought it toward my head.
She gave me a weird look. “Taking care of your hair?”
I nodded, not sure what else to do.
She made a few disgruntled noises at the mess of it all. She asked me some things but I didn’t know how to respond so I kept my mouth shut. I found myself looking around again. Her closet was open and some of the drawers on her dresser were ajar. There was a lot of clothes scattered about too. On the back of her half closed closet door I noticed a weird uniform hanging there. All I could see of it was a black blazer of some kind and a pleated skirt. I found it strange because Tina didn’t look the type to go to some kind of private school.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing.
She looked and grinned. “Cute right. That’s my old school uniform.”
She finished blow drying my hair and walked over to the closet. She took the uniform off the back of the door, allowing me to get a better look. From this new angle I saw there was a white blouse and tie that went with the blazer. I also noticed some kind of crest on the left breast.
“Is that the school there?” I asked, pointing.
She looked and nodded. Then she looked at me for a bit before smiled.
“Its called Whateley. All hush hush secret stuff, non-mutants need not apply.”
Wait, there were schools for mutants?
Something else occurred to me suddenly.
“If its secret and for mutants, why did you tell me?”
She smiled. “I can you see, sweetie.”
I gave her a confused look. “Of course you can, I’m sitting right here….”
She laughed. No giggle this time.
“No, I mean I can see YOU” she said and her eyes glowed. “Its my thing. Well one of my things anyway. I can tell the difference between mutants and well, humans...”
Oh, so she could literally “see me”.
I suppose that explained It.
“What can you see about me exactly?”
She shook her head, brushing my hair. “It doesn’t work that way. Its more like I see an aura. Mutants just shine a bit brighter.”
“That’s really cool”.
“Also really rare. Please don’t pass it around...”
She left it at that.
She started talking about my hair. How it was atrocious that I didn’t take better care of it. Which I almost laughed at because well I’d only had the hair for a few hours. Of course I didn’t tell her that. I just mentioned how it was shorter and grew when I manifested. That seemed to satisfy her because then she started talking about some styles she could do with it. There was some back and forth because I wasn’t really looking for anything overly girly. In the end, we agreed on a braid. I didn’t realize how long it was until the braid was finished. It reached almost down to my butt.
I’m not sure what I thought about that.
“Really cute” she said with a satisfied clap.
“Now shoes” she said, walking over to a pile near the door. “I’m not sure of your size, so these should fit.”
She tossed a pair of ballet slippers at me.
I see what she was doing. She was trying to make me one of those trendy girls. Putting them on my feet and looking in the mirror, I felt like I was on The CW.
“Do you want to do makeup next?” she asked, holding up a little brush of some kind.
I was about to respond when there was a knock on the door.
Hank poked his head inside. He looked at me for a moment, surprised before he quickly recovered:
“Maury is awake. He’s asking for you.”
When we got downstairs, Maggie was standing outside her little operating room. I was about to ask her how Maury was doing but the look on her face was enough. I’d seen that look before. It was the same look that the doctor had on his face when he told Mom and I that Dad was dead. Thinking back on it, neither one of us shed any tears for him. Not that I didn’t love my father in my own way, its just I wasn’t really happy to see him go. Once he stopped fighting in the ring and went to the booze full time, he became a different man. It was funny because I couldn’t really remember much about it, just pieces. I’m not even sure when Mom left. I just knew one day she was there and the next she wasn’t. Then a woman from Social Services was there for me and I ended up in the system. I ran away a few years after that. All of it seemed like a distant memory now. Like it happened to someone else. Maybe it did. I definitely didn’t feel or look like my old self now.
“He’s not going to make it, is he?” I asked, not waiting for her to give me the bad news.
She sighed. “I can heal surface wounds. The knife she used was jagged, she cut deep. There’s too mu...”
“How long?” I cut her off, not wanting to hear the rest.
She shook her head. “A few hours.”
I clenched my fists at my sides.
This was my fault.
All of this was my fault.
Fighting back the tears, I walked into the room.
Maury was hooked up to her machines. As I got closer to the bed, he looked at me. At first, he stared past me then he locked eyes with me. It took me a few seconds to realize that he didn’t recognize me. Hell, I didn’t really recognize me either.
“Mox?” he asked, I nodded.
That about summed it up.
I found myself at his bedside, absently grabbing his hand without thinking. He looked so weak and pale. It was hard to believe that this was the same gruff, tough as nails bastard who’d been raising me the last couple of years. This man before me was a shell or his former self. I squeezed his hand which was pretty out of character for me. Maury and I were never all that affectionate with one another. We weren’t family, even though we pretended we were. His cover story had been that I was his great nephew, come to live with him after his non-existent niece died in a car accident. No one ever questioned it. Maury’s criminal ties got him all the paperwork he needed to make the lie a reality.
A small part of me always wished it was true though.
“So, apparently I’m a mutant….”I said after a long silence.
He smirked. “You look like your Mom...”
Maury never did explain how he knew her. I never asked. I just assumed we’d have all the time in the world. Guess I was wrong.
“You doing ok?”
“Me?” I asked, tearing up. “You’re on your death bed and you’re asking me if I’m ok?”
He grunted. “This was inevitable. Death missed me the first time. I figure I owe Her one.”
Of course he’d think Death was a woman.
He always used to tell me his Ex-wife was the Devil.
“This is all really strange and confusing and...”
He reached and gently stroked my face. “You’re strong, Mox, and good. Remember that. Don’t let anything change that. You’re a bright kid too. You land on your feet, you’ll be ok...”
I shook my head. “I’m messed up. I did this”
“No” he said sternly. “She did this. That bitch. I want you to promise me something. I want you to forget her. I know you, I know you’ll try something stupid. She’s not worth it. She’s dangerous. Her and the people she answers too, leave them alone.”
“And what if they don’t leave me alone….”
He sighed. “That’s why I need to get you someplace safe” He looked over my shoulder. “In my coat, there’s a letter...”
I remembered a letter. He had it in his hand back in the shop.
I let go of his hand and went over to where his coat was. I rifled through his pockets and found the envelope from before. The corners of it were stained in blood. I walked back over to him and tried to hand it to him but he shook his head.
“Its not for me. Its for my daughter, Gloria. The farm that Hank and I were sending you to, its her place. You should be safe there, its far away from the city. When you get there, I need you to give that to her. Tell her I’m sorry, tell her...” He sighed. “The letter will do that...”
He started coughing.
I quickly found a jug of water on his bedside. I poured him a glass and handed it over.
He took a slow, small sip.
He gestured me closer, I leaned in. “I want you to leave here as soon as possible.”
He looked toward the door. “You can’t trust, Maggie.”
“She fixed you up!”
He shook his head. “She owed me a favor, nothing more. She works for the Society, Mox. Its only a matter of time before she lets them know where you are...”
I looked toward the door.
I hadn’t realized how dangerous all of this was.
“Do you still have the second vial?” he asked in a whisper.
I nodded. It was in my pack.
“Keep it away from her.”
“What am I supposed to do with it…?”
“Gloria can help. Her husband was a superhero. She might still have some connections. You need to give it to her...”
He started coughing some more, a lot louder than before.
It drew Maggie into the room. She looked from me to him and frowned.
“He needs his rest now.”
I gave her a long, hard look.
Would she really betray me?
Did I really want to give her a chance?
I gave her a fake smile and walked out.
Maury died a day later.
I spent that whole day bawling my eyes out. Though he could be harsh, he was still more caring that my own father ever was. In some respects, my mother too. Maury was the only one who ever saw me as anything more than a burden. After my parents were gone and the world turned its back on me, I thought I was done caring. Then Maury came along and things were good again. He gave me a roof over my head, fresh clothes to wear, a meal every night. The thing was, he was never obligated to do any of it. Sure he made up reasons, said I had “potential” but deep down, I think he needed me as much as I needed him.
I was going to miss the guy.
I never even cried for my parents.
That’s gotta tell you something.
I probably would have mourned for days but we had other pressing matters that needed to be attended too. Hank made the arrangements discreetly and had Maury cremated. There was no funeral for obvious reasons. Last night, we did have a moment of silence for him. We’re not cold people by any means but there wasn’t a lot time to mourn when you had killer mutants on your tail. It was even more pressing now that I knew Maggie worked for them. I took Maury’s warning about her to heart and never took my eyes off her. At least, when she wasn’t watching me. If Maury’s cautious paranoia was right, it was only a matter of time before she called her boss and ratted us out. Which of course made all of this very dangerous for me and Hank.
We needed to leave.
It was easier said than done though.
After a few days of asking around, we were still no closer to a solution.
I still wanted to check on our progress though.
I found the big man alone while Maggie was in her office doing some much needed inventory. After dealing with Maury, Hank said he was making arrangements. Getting out of the city was proving to be a lot harder than he originally thought. For one thing, that little incident at the pawn shop had made the News. There were “dangerous mutants” out there wanted for questioning. That meant not only was local law enforcement probably looking for me, those MCO bastards were probably looking too. That complicated things. What’s worse, most of the criminal connections that Hank had in the city also worked for The Society so we couldn’t trust any of them. He was trying to call in some of Maury’s favors but without the man himself, it was proving difficult.
We were two people who needed to run but no real means to do so.
Hank twitched as I came up behind him, grabbing for his gun until he saw it was me.
Yes, we were that jumpy.
“Good news. I found us a way out.”
There was something in his tone though that told me it might not be ideal.
“Is it that bad?”
He grunted. “Ricky C.”
Ricky Cartelli was a low level enforcer for the Crux Crime Syndicate.
In this part of the city, The Society along ran half the criminal business. The Cruxs ran the other. Unlike The Society though, they were low level street thugs. More like a gang that a true criminal organization. They had Mutants though. They were a lot more open and vocal about their activities too. B and E, grand theft auto, drugs. The Crux had their hands in a lot of different pots. Rumor had it that they had some big connections though, bigger than The Society’s. Their leader used to be a supervillain called the Prowler, he was a brick with a severe case of GSD, most of his body was covered in thick black fur and he had the head of a leopard. Most people weren’t sure if it was a mask or his real head, no one bothered to ask.
The big thing for us though was that they HATED The Society.
Their turf war was legendary.
Which worked to our advantage.
“They’re going to help us?”
Hank scoffed. “We have a meeting. That’s all Ricky could get us. If The Prowler thinks its in his best interest to assist us, he’ll do so. If not...”
Hank didn’t need to say.
“There’s nothing else?”
He scoffed. “The Society has the city on lock down. Everyone of their informants has your and my face. Without Maury to make the deals, everyone is clamming up. Not only that but the cops and those MCO clowns are watching the airport and bus terminals. If we want out of the city, we need to be smuggled out. We don’t have a lot of options.”
Sure we do.
“I can turn myself in.”
I didn’t like it but what choice did I have.
Sure I wouldn’t go to The Society, they killed Maury. I wanted to make them ALL pay for that. The way I saw it now, I had two bad choices: The Crux or the MCO. Neither of them were particularly promising choices but at least one of them would try locking me up for just being me. I sighed, knowing what my decision was going to be. I didn’t even have to voice it. Hank just gave me a nod and promised to make the arrangements before leaving me alone to my thoughts again. I’d like to say I was going to ponder the meaning of the universe but I had other pressing matters to deal with. Ok so not pressing but definitely distracting.
Two of them.
I looked down and sighed.
I’d been avoiding them for days.
I didn’t know a lot about mutants---only what TV and movies told me---but I’m pretty certain that when manifesting, people didn’t generally change genders. If I had to guess, I’d say it had to be that formula. It was the only other explanation. It scared me to think that there was a drug out there that could change boys into girls. It scared me even more because I was pretty certain that my gender change was probably just a side effect. I mean, why would The Society want it back so much if it just “Poof, you’re a girl” to a person who took it. There had to be something more to it and unfortunately, the only person who could tell me about it would probably betray me if I showed her.
This was all bullshit.
I grabbed my chest, squeezing them out of frustration.
Shit, that hurt.
I cursed again.
There was so much of this that I still didn’t understand. Like I said, I’d been trying to avoid it all too. I’ll willingly admit it, that probably wasn’t pretty healthy. Tina was a Godsent though. She kept lending me what clothes would fit but kept trying to tell me I really needed to find something that fit a bit more properly. She had a lot of questions and I didn’t really know how to answer most of them. She kept giving me strange looks too when she thought I didn’t notice. I think she was starting to suspect there was something off about me. It was hard not to notice. I was uncomfortable being a girl. I mean after my first initial exploration when I first got here, I’d been avoiding looking at myself. I knew what I saw in the mirror and it was still hard to place that body with my mind. There were other things too. I was clumsy, I kept tripping over my own feet and I kept touching my boobs, not really sure what to do with them.
Just like now.
I didn’t even know that squeezing them would hurt.
All of this was so…
Her voice made me jump.
I snapped around and saw Tina standing in the doorway. She was staring again.
“What?” I squeaked, wondering how long she was standing there.
She sighed, walking slowly into the room. She wandered over to the couch and casually dropped into it. She reached for the remote but didn’t bother to turn on the TV. The two of us were currently in Maggie’s tiny living room. I found it amazing that she was able to fit so much furniture in such a small space. I also found it amazing that for the last four days, the four of us had been able to coexist in such a space. It was not without its difficulties though. Hank and I really needed to leave.
“You were thinking that all of this is a bit scary, right?”
I was floored.
“You’re a mind reader too?”
She smirked. “Not likely. I can read emotions. Even if I couldn’t though, you radiate fear.”
Of course I do.
“This whole situation is pretty scary” I said, stumbling over my words.
“I’ll bet and not just the Society thing either.”
What did she know?
I stared at her long and hard. She stared right back. This went on for a few minutes. I was wondering which one of us would break when she finally sighed and blinked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking...”
“Are you ready to tell me your name?” she asked, crossing her arms.
“I told, its Mox...”
She scoffed. “We both know that Moxie is not a name.’
True but it was the only one I had now. The only one that had any real meaning to me too.
She got off the couch and walked toward me. I thought for sure she might try to attack me. I started to take a stance, ready for a fight. I had to be careful though, I knew what would happen if she touched me. Tina’s touch was something else. After Maury died and I was bawling for hours, Tina came into the room and place her hand on my shoulder. I immediately felt warm and happy. It was like she took away my pain. Later she told me that she could “push” good feelings into a person. So when Maggie asked for Tina’s hands when we first arrived, she didn’t just ask for help. She was literally requesting her “hands”.
I took a step back, she smirked.
“I’m not going to touch you but I do want to show you something.”
She walked past me and over to a bookshelf against the far wall.
Maggie had a lot of books. Once again, I was surprised how she could fit so much into such a small space. I only had a short time to browse her library and most of them had names that I couldn’t pronounce. I assumed they were medical books of some kind. It made sense I suppose, she was a doctor after all. The book that Tina pulled off the shelf was one of the ones without a name. I noticed it earlier because it was bigger than the rest. Now that she was holding it, I realized it wasn’t a book at all but a photo album. She gestured me over to the couch where she took a seat again.
I reluctantly followed.
She placed the book on the little coffee table and started flipping through it.
Maggie had a lot of pictures.
I tried to follow them as Tina flipped through them, I saw a lot of pictures of a happy family, of a boy and girl. The girl looked a lot like Maggie so I’m guessing it was her. The boy I’m assuming was probably Tina’s father. The pictures followed a pattern, as the two kids started to age. Eventually I saw Maggie a bit older, wearing a school uniform much like the one Tina showed me. That progressed to a graduation gown then a picture of a bit older Maggie wearing another graduation gown. The pictures after that were of a baby. At first I thought they might be Maggie’s child but there was no indication that she any children. The baby pictures grew older until Tina finally stopped on a picture of a boy about my age.
A boy who looked like he could almost be a younger sibling of hers.
“This is Trevor” she said, rubbing the photo fondly.
She snorted. “I wish...” Her voice caught for a second before she spoke again. “Trevor is...was...me.”
I was floored.
I blinked a few times.
I stared at the picture long and hard. The boy looked to be about twelve or thirteen. He had her hair, her eyes, her smile.
I stared at her a long time, until she blushed and gently pushed my shoulder.
“Stop, you’re gonna give a girl a complex...”
I still didn’t understand it though. If that boy was Tina then that meant...that she was like me.
“You’re a boy?”
She laughed. “Not anymore obviously”.
She closed the book and sighed. “I just turned thirteen. I had the biggest crush on this girl in my class, Julie. One day, she approached me and told me she loved me. It floored me. We went on a couple of dates but took it slow, lots of hand holding. It happened on our third date. I finally got up the courage to kiss her, I was so scared. It happened almost as our lips touched. It was like lightning. One minute I was kissing the girl of my dreams, playing rubbing her training bra through her shirt and the next week, I was wearing a training bra myself. To say I was shocked was an understatement. My parents always suspected I might be a mutant, I had the gene after all. They were about as shocked as I was though and not in a good way. Losing their beloved son took a toll. They got a divorce shortly after and well Dad couldn’t even look at me, I went to live with Aunt Maggie after that...”
She was teary eyed so I did the rational thing and gave her a hug.
It was weird because I’d never been that person before.
The compassionate one.
Sure I’d step in and help someone if they needed it but I never hugged.
It wasn’t my thing.
Yet, Tina looked like she needed one.
When the hug finished, I felt all warm and gooey inside. I realized she probably did it but I wasn’t going to say anything because she was smiling.
“I know how it feels by the way” I said, trying to make her feel better. “My parents are gone too. I know its not the same, mine are dead but it feels almost like they tossed me aside too. Shit, wait that came out wrong...”
She giggled. “Its ok. I know what you meant. You’re right though, they tossed me away. They were scared what their friends would say about it all. Dad was scared he’d lose his position at work, Mom feared for her practice. It was all stupid bullshit.”
“Are they still…?”
She grunted. “They tried to reconnect last year after I graduated highschool, I told them to go fuck themselves. They’re paying for my school though. Aunt Maggie made sure of that, NYU isn’t cheap you know. So I guess there is that. That’s as far as I’ll allow them to take it though. As far as I’m concerned, Maggie is the only family I have left.”
“It still must suck...all of it...especially...what happened with Julie?”
I’ll be honest, I was scared of that more than anything.
Now that I’d been like this for a few days now, I had a lot of quiet time to think and reflect. I had never really had an active social life. I had some friends but nothing major. I was too busy dealing with Dad’s drunk ass for any real socializing. I liked girls though. I liked them a lot. There was one in particular, Jessica Clark, she was gorgeous and the last time I saw her, she was starting to fill out. I could only imagine what she looked like now. I tried imagining it again last night, like I used too. i’m not going to lie, my imagination of Jessica kept my left hand very busy. The thing was, last night, I couldn’t get anything from it. Sure I had nothing to “stimulate” like before but I knew how girls masturbated too, I had to watch the same video in school. I thought for sure thinking about her last night might still get me all hot and bothered but…
Tina was giving me a knowing look.
“Julie was cool actually” she said after a moment. “It shocked the hell out of me. My parents were hoping they could hide it all but they couldn’t from her. I practically turned into a girl with my lips pressed against hers. When I passed out, she was the one who called 911. We met up again a few days later. There was a bit of awkwardness for a while then one day while we were hanging out, she kissed me. She told me she wanted to see what it was like, if it felt the same...”
That surprised me. “And?”
Tina smiled. “We dated all through high school. It was mostly a summer thing obviously. We’d hook up while I was home then part ways when I went back to school. As we got older, our meet ups got a little more intimate. Let me tell you, that girl has some stamina...”
“TMI, Tina” I shuddered, she giggled.
Her face was a little red though.
She finally calmed down a few seconds later. “So regardless of all that, I adjusted. I wasn’t happy at first and was weirded out by it for a long time but school helped a lot. I met others like me...”
“Wait” I said, interrupting her. “There are others, like you?”
She gave me a look. “Sure, there’s a whole lot of us, Changelings. In my year, there were only four but there were more that came before and after. I’ve even met a few of us at college. Of course, its a bit on the hush hush there too. There are many like my parents who just aren’t accepting. So its kept pretty secret. You’ll see eventually...”
Wait, did she just say?
She smiled, placing her hands gently on my shoulders. “Why do you think I told you all of this, the thing about living with Changelings for as long as I have, I have attuned my senses to pick them out of the crowd...”
She gave me shoulders a gentle squeeze. “Its ok sweetie, its scary and its hard but you’re not alone. Remember, you’re never alone…
My lip started to tremble and I lost it.
She pulled me into a hug and let me cry it out on her shoulder. I had no idea how relieving it would to tell someone else. I was so scared that I was alone and that no one would understand. But she knew. She knew, she was like me and she understood completely. There were others out there like me too. Suddenly the world didn’t seem so small and I didn’t seem so alone anymore. I was still terrified but with Tina here to help me, I think I was going to be ok.
“So” she said, after we pulled away. “What’s your name then?”
I laughed, still a bit teary eyed. “Greg.”
She smiled. “Nice to meet you, Greg.”
I groaned. “I think we might need to work on that.”
We both laughed.
Then she gave me one of her signature looks, she made a few humming sounds. She walked around me slowly, ordering me to raise my arms and things like that. At first, I thoguht she’d gone crazy. Finally, she was standing in front of me, smiling again.
“Its decided then.”
“What’s decided?” I asked, confused.
“Your name, silly” she said, giggling. “You definitely don’t look like a Greg anymore and Moxie is great but no one will ever believe its your real name. So I think Gretchen will work nicely.”
“Hold on” I said, a bit annoyed. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
She laughed. “Nope.”
I opened my mouth to protest but honestly, I’m not sure what I could say. She had a point. I couldn’t very well be Greg anymore and Moxie really wasn’t a name. A codename maybe but I would definitely have to call myself something else. I hadn’t really thought about any of it though. I knew I needed help and now that I knew who Tina used to be, I suppose she was the best person to do it. I had a lot to learn too. If she wanted to give me a name, I was more than happy to take it. I suppose that was the easy part.
I sighed. “Fine, I’m Gretchen.”
“I knew you’d see it my way” She laughed and pulled me into a hug. “Welcome to the Club, girl, I know you’re going to love it!”
Our hug was interrupted a few moments later by Hank clearing his throat. Pulling away from Tina, I found him standing in the doorway. For a second, he had a bemused look on his face before his expression went back to his usual stone faced stare. It was strange. I’d only known the man for a few days but I was finding him to be an invaluable ally. It must be about what people say, that tragedy brings you together. All of us had been complete strangers before and circumstances changed things quickly. Even stranger still was my perception of him. Before I saw nothing but a goon. Now I saw a caring, dedicated bodyguard determined to protect me at all costs because of his loyalty to a man that we both clearly cared a lot for.
It was nice in a way but also a bit daunting.
It was a bit scary too.
I knew to what lengths he’d go to protect me.
“Sorry to interrupt” he said, looking uncomfortable. “I just got off the phone with Ricky C. Arrangements have been made. We leave in two hours.”
“What about our meeting?”
Hank shook his head. “When The Prowler heard the MCO might be on your tail, he called it off. Said it was too hot. He wants them as far away as possible.”
At least we agreed on something.
Rumor has it, they’d been trying to hone in on his operation for a while. The MCO didn’t like the idea of a mutant criminal running shop in the city. Especially one who refused to pay them off like The Society. Make no mistake about it, Mistress Zodiac was not an idiot. Maury said she had connections and apparently some of those connections kept the MCO at bay. Unfortunately for The Prowler, he didn’t have the same courtesies. So he really was taking a big risk helping me. It made me wonder how big.
“And the price?”
When dealing with types like The Prowler, there was ALWAYS a price.
“A favor for a favor.”
So a dangerous risk then.
Maggie and Tina came to send us off.
As we were walking out the door of the clinic, Tina handed me the large duffel she was carrying. We spent the last hour or so going through her closet and drawers. She was convinced she needed to aid me in all things girls. Part of that apparently meant giving every bit of clothes she didn’t want or that which didn’t fit. Like I said before, it still didn’t fit me in certain places but it was better than nothing. She also gave me a few more embarrassing things too. Things she said every girl “needed”. Being handed a box of tampons was probably the most horrible moment in my life. It had been the one part of girlhood I’d been trying to ignore but she brought it the forefront for me pretty fast. It scared me too.
More so than most of this.
“Do you have everything?”
I sighed and nodded.
Tina went shopping for me the other day, back before she was certain I was not a born girl. She bought me some of the essentials I might need, new underwear being one such thing. Apparently girls didn’t share underwear for obvious reasons. When we were packing earlier, she made sure I packed everything. We managed to fit it all in two bags, the backpack I was carrying and her duffle. Tina had made sure I packed other things too. Things she was sure a normal girl might have, including makeup, a hairbrush and a girly magazine or two. She said it was all about the illusion.
“You have my number too, right?”
I held up the burner phone. “Its programmed in and yes, when I get where I’m going, I’ll give you a call.”
She gave me sad smile. “I wish I could go with you. You’re still really new at all of this, its really scary. I had Jules, you need someone...”
I cut her off. “Its fine, Tina. You have school. I think I can manage.”
I hoped I could manage.
I’m not going to lie, the prospect of it all scared me. I would have been lost without her these last few days. She was a literal godsend. Now I was going to have to do this without her, with another set of strangers. I sighed, thinking about the conversation Tina and I had after Hank left us alone. We retired to her room where we started packing. Tina tried to educate me on how the world would work now. Apparently Changelings weren’t common knowledge in most mutant circles. Most of them kept their previous gender a secret because there were still quite a few bigots out there, even among mutant kind. So she wanted to make sure that I didn’t go and tell the wrong person that I used to be a boy. I had that part covered though. I didn’t want to be a girl but I wasn’t about to tell ANYONE who I was before.
She also expressed how important it was for me get an MID as soon as possible. Sure I could easily pass for a non-mutant but there were certain situations where one might be needed. Plus, it might not be too bad to have a codename picked out too. I told her I didn’t want any of that stuff but she was adamant I at least try. Plus, I needed power testing. I didn’t argue about that. I still had no idea what I could do. After that fight with Monkey boy, Hank told me what happened but I was so out of it I remembered very little. He said that Carbuncle had been pounding on me pretty hard then suddenly stopped and screamed out in pain. It was then he managed to finally get a clear shot and took it. After that, I touched a dumpster and caused it to explode.
I vividly remembered that part.
What I didn’t understand was what I did?
How did I hurt Carbuncle like that?
I mean, I used to be able to take a punch. Dad’s boxing training had taught me enough. I definitely knew how to throw one too. Carbuncle had been on a whole new level of everything though. He’d been so fast and his punches were like red hot pokers. Then they weren’t and he was dead. I vaguely remembered something else too, I think I was glowing?
“Earth to Mox!”
Tina was waving a hand in front of my face, I blinked.
I realized she’d been saying something but I completely blanked it out.
“Sorry, what was that?”
She giggled. “I was saying, your cab is here.”
I looked and sure enough, the cab was pulling up in front of the clinic.
Tina grabbed me and pulled me into a big hug. She held it for a while before finally letting go. She gave me a big wave and stepped back. I was surprised when Maggie stepped forward and pulled me into a hug too. What surprised me even more were her words:
“They know you have it. I did all I could to stall them but they’re coming. I’m sorry.”
She let me go, teary eyed.
I snapped around toward the cab. Hank was loading my duffle and his bag into the trunk. Just as he was closing it, a large object fell out of the sky and landed on the car. Everything felt like it was going in slow motion. One second, the cab was fully in tact and we were all standing, the next everything was in chaos. The cab was crushed, the shockwave from it sent us flying. I hit the front of the clinic, the brick absorbing my impact. Hank went flying down the street, Maggie managed to get herself in front of Tina, taking the brunt of the attack. Glass and metal flew all over the place. I thought I heard screaming.
The world spun around me for what felt like an eternity.
When things started to fade back into focus, I was looking straight ahead. What I saw blew my mind, standing in the wreckage of the cab was the biggest man I’d ever seen. He had be seven feet tall and was thick with muscle. He was naked except for the loincloth he wore. I would have thought him some kind of city freak but I knew better. His nakedness was not the scariest part though, that had to be his head. It looked human enough except the two large horns on either side of it.
“Good afternoon ladies” he said in a thick, Brooklyn accent. “I’m Minotaur, The Society sends it regards.”
The big beast of a man stepped out of the wreckage, shaking a piece of the bumper off his foot.
I tried not to look at the cab and what was clearly left of the driver.
The mangle of human and car was horrible.
Maggie was the first one to her feet. I looked past her to Tina, my friend looked unscathed. Looking back at Maggie, I noticed a slight white shimmer around her. Did she have some kind of forcefield?
“What the hell is this, Dennis? Are you out of your damn mind!”
The large man scoffed. “You ain’t calling the shots here, Doc. I have orders. That one” He pointed a finger at me. “Comes with me.”
“You could have killed my niece!”
The big man shrugged. “Not my problem.”
Tina finally came to her senses and staggered to her feet. “What the hell, Aunt Maggie?”
“I’ll explain it all later...”
“He could have...”
The big man groaned. “I’m not here for family drama. I just want the girl, you can squabble like chickens after I’m done.”
I was on my feet by that time too. I looked down the street, hoping to see Hank with his gun again. No such luck. My bodyguard was still flat on his back and unmoving. Unlike Tina and Maggie, Hank had no forcefield to protect him. That still begged a serious question: how did I survive? That blast and the impact should have killed me. Yet, here I still stood barely dazed. I’m not going to lie though, I hurt all over. Moving was excruciating and breathing was even worse. Still, I should have been dead.
“I’m not going anywhere” I managed to gasp out.
He looked at me, surprised. “You’re still standing. I’m impressed. The Doc has her shield, you must be more durable than you look. But ya gotta be I guess, you plastered Carbuncle.”
I shook my head. “That wasn’t me, Hank killed him.”
“I ain’t talking about the killing, I’m talking about the ass beating. I saw the video. He was all over ya and then bam, one punch. You never even laid a hand on him. I ain’t ever seen anyone stop the little bastard like that. Then he got killed. Its a shame really, I was hoping you and I might go a few...”
I think this guy had a bigger mouth than me. He definitely liked to talk more. Which gave me the advantage I needed. I knew I could never attack him but I didn’t really want too. I just wanted to distract him enough so I could try and get away. While he was talking, he wasnt really paying attention to his surroundings. I took that opportunity to grab the biggest thing I could find and lob it at his head. It wasn’t the best strategy but it was all I had. Unfortunately, the big man saw it coming. For his size, I never expected him to react that quickly. One second he was yammering, the next he was in full fight mode. He caught the garbage can I threw in an over-sized hand, crushing it like a pop can.
I did not see that coming.
He smirked. “You think I got where I am by being a dummy?”
“You have to ask?”
He sighed. “You see my size and you just think, that hurts. I’m a person you know, I have feelings. I have dreams and goals. I’m not some dumb monster.”
“Sorry” I said, hoping it sounded the least bit sincere.
The last thing I needed was to piss him off.
“I wanted a family and...” He stopped and shook his head, almost as if he was shaking cobwebs.
He looked past me to Tina, she was smirking.
“What did you do?”
“That was really sweet, opening up like that” She was standing tall, looking proud. “Tell us how you really feel?”
He growled. “I read about you. They call you Serenity, right?”
“You’re that feelings girl. You can push people, make them get all gushy, distract them...”
He was still shaking his head.
Tina was trying to fight him.
He roared a second later, bringing up one of those large fists. He was fast. He smashed it into the ground in front of her, sending her flying backwards. I thought she was a goner for sure but Tina rolled out of it at the last second. She was back on her feet a few seconds after that. She made a play for him but he was a lot faster. She was trying to jump into the air, probably in an attempt to dodge his fist. She just wasn’t fast enough. He didn’t punch her. Instead, he smacked her out of the air like a bug. The blow knocked the wind out of her, she was barely moving. Minotaur raised his fist again, ready to bring it down on her.
Instead the fist smashed into a white dome of light around Tina.
I snapped around, Maggie was standing there, her arm outstretched.
“You dare interfere!”
“I told her my niece was not to be harmed!”
“She stepped in. You know the rules.”
“Not her, never her!” Maggie screamed, making the forcefield bigger and bigger.
The white dome pushed at Minotaur, staggering him slightly. I thought for a moment, that she might actually succeed in pushing him back. As the bubble got bigger and bigger, the big man fell back. He went to one knee but suddenly the bubble started to waver. I looked at Maggie, seeing the strain. So her forcefield had a limit and apparently she was about to reach it. He was back on his feet and charged headfirst into the bubble, it shattered with the impact. He didn’t stop charging though, aiming directly at Maggie. I moved without thinking, grabbing her wrist. I yanked her away just as he barreled at us. His momentum caused him to crash face first into the building behind us.
There was another shockwave but this one a lot smaller than the one before.
It did knock both of us to our knees though.
Minotaur was barely scathered. He staggered away from the wall, laughing.
“And here I thought this was going to be easy.” He brushed some rubble from his shoulder, there was a large head shaped hole in the wall behind him. “You got some talent, Doc but not enough not to stop me.”
He roared again and came at us.
I managed to push Maggie out of the way just as one of those giant fists of his slammed into the ground where she was. The force of the punch sent me staggering away. I rolled a few feet before I managed to stand. Getting to my feet, it didn’t hurt as much. I’m not sure if it was adrenaline or something else. Whatever it was, I welcomed it. I looked over at Maggie though, she wasn’t as lucky. She was still alive---I saw her chest moving up and down---but she was down for the count too.
“Just you and me now, girl” He said, barely sweating. “You put up a good game, so why don’t we stop this and you just give up. The boss just wants to talk, that’s all.”
I looked from Maggie to Tina.
I felt an anger well up inside of me.
I felt something else too.
“Go fuck yourself!”
He sighed. “We could have done this the easy way too.”
He came at me a second later. I’m not sure what I was expecting. There was no way I could match his shear power and speed. The man was a behemoth, a literal charging bull. One fist slammed into the ground next to me, sending me flying. I barely survived. A second later, another fist. I staggered again. They would have been deadly blows. They should have been deadly blows and yet, he kept missing? Why did he keep missing? He was fast and strong and his punches were connecting before. I saw him take out Tina with one. Yet, now he could barely hit straight. I wasn’t the only one who was noticing either.
He was angry.
He swung more punches, more misses.
They were wild.
There was something else too.
With each impact, I noticed the shockwave was smaller. I also noticed that there wasn’t nearly as much destruction. Was this the extent of his power? Could he only go so long before running out of steam? Or was it something else? Another fist came at me but instead of missing like the others, I actually dodged it. Was he slowing down? No, another fist came at my head and I ducked underneath it with ease. He wasn’t slowing down at all. I felt the shockwave from it. Unlike before though, it was like getting hit by the wind. It barely moved me and what’s more, my pain, it was gone. In fact, I realized that with each blow he missed, more of my pain went away.
It was almost as if his blows were healing me.
“Don’t get distracted!” he shouted, catching me off guard.
The fist that came directly for me should have been it.
I saw my whole life flash before my eyes.
It really sucked.
Then I felt it. I felt the full force of his punch slam into my face. I felt something else too, something stronger. Not from him but from me. I watched in awe as his fist crumpled against me like a bug on a windshield. The wail that came out of Minotaur was not like the roars from before. It was one of pain. He staggered backwards, his large hand a mangled mess. I did that. Just like with Carbuncle. Unlike with Carbuncle though, I think I had a better understand of what was going on. I absorbed the impact of that punch. I barely felt anything when his fist hit my face. It was like getting hit by a child. There was something else too, I felt good. In fact, I felt better than I’d ever felt in my whole life. It was almost as if that punch supercharged me. There was more too.
I could feel it.
Feel it throughout my whole body.
I raised my fists and that’s when I saw it.
That red glow.
It was some kind of energy, energy surrounding my hands.
He roared again, apparently not done with me.
This time though, he staggered as he charged, one arm dangling limp at his side. He barreled at me, swinging with his good arm. The punches didn’t even come close. It was almost as if I knew where he was going to punch and was able to dodge it a second later. I’ve been in many fights, I’ve felt the rush of adrenaline when I really got going. I used to love the feeling. It was the greatest rush ever. The rush I felt now though, it was the most amazing thing I’d ever felt in my life. It kept coming too. With each fist he tried to hit me with, the more powerful I felt.
Minotaur looked the complete opposite.
He got slower and slower.
He staggered a lot more.
He stopped fighting.
I walked up to him and smirked. “Done yet?”
“Its not possible” he gasped.
“Surprised me too” I said, looking at one of my glowing hands.
I turned and started to walk away.
Minotaur wasn’t done. He tried one last ditch effort, with his enemy’s back to him no less. I snapped around, ready for what I was expecting to come. Sure enough, he was going all out. He had a large reach, far larger than my own. I dodged his swing and without thinking, threw a punch. I didn’t expect much to happen. Minotaur was a big guy, my tiny fists should have bounced off him harmlessly. When my fist connected with his face, I heard the loudest crack imaginable. I felt the force of it all up my arm, it was a blow that should have shattered every bone. At first I thought it did, until I realized the crack I heard was not my own.
Minotaur dropped like a ton of bricks, broken and battered at my feet.
I nudged him with my foot, he groaned.
Holy shit, did I just…
That was intense, I felt great, I felt...
I staggered and puked. A moment later, the world started to spin around me. There was intense pain everywhere, I screamed out. I saw a flash of red light then blackness consumed me.
When I opened my eyes again, the first thing I noticed was that I was moving. The second thing I noticed was that I was staring up at Tina. I blinked, confused. The last thing I could clearly remember was being outside in front of the clinic and Minotaur was there. He had crushed the cab and beaten the others unconscious. Yet, here Tina was, awake and all right. More or less. There was a bruise on her cheek and a bandage on her forehead. She was alive though. That’s all that really mattered. I tried to sit up but she put a restraining hand on my chest, keeping me in place.
“Try not to move too much, you’ve been out of it for a while.”
I groaned. “Where am I? What happened?”
There was a scoff from somewhere off to my left maybe? Or was it in front of me?
“What happened, she asks”.
It was Hank.
“Well, let’s see” he continued, “a fourteen year old girl just single handedly beat the strongest man in all of New York City and didn’t even break a sweat doing it. A feat, I might add that usually takes three or four highly trained supers to do.”
The strongest man in the city?
That’s ridiculously. Everyone knows that’s the Ox from The Society….
“Wait...Minotaur is Ox...”
Hank laughed. “You didn’t know.”
I snapped up, nearly banging my head. Looking around, I realized we were in a car. That’s why I felt movement, we were actually moving. I took a moment to look out the window, it was dark out now and we were on a long straight of highway, nothing but trees on either side of us. This wasn’t the city. When did we leave?
“Almost there now” said Hank, looking at me from the rear view mirror.
I was even more confused than before.
Tina sighed. “After you passed out, Aunt Maggie’s healing fully kicked in and revived her. She woke up to find you unconscious, Minotaur a few feet away. At first, she was certain he killed you. But then she found a pulse. She did what she could to keep you stable. Then she went to check on me and Hank. We couldn’t stay long though as the police and ambulance showed up shortly after. The MCO wasn’t far behind. They took Minotaur into custody, I don’t envy him in the least. Maggie stayed behind to allow us time to get out of there.”
“You came with me?” I said, smiling.
She brushed some hair from my face. “Of course, I did. Someone had to take care of you while Hank drove.”
I looked past her to him. “I thought you were dead.”
He laughed. “I probably would have been but I like to be prepared. The inner lining of my suit has a special weave. Mostly to stop small arms fire but its also a decent shock absorber. I managed to see him as he was falling and just barely got away from the initial blast. It wasn’t enough to keep me from getting caught up in the shockwave. Got a couple of bruised ribs for my trouble.”
“Maggie warned me” I said softly.
“Good thing too. You’re lucky. Not too many people can say they fought with the Minotaur and survived. You’re lucky.”
Yeah, lucky. I reached my hand absently into my pocket. The second vial was still there and surprisingly intact. I couldn’t help but wonder if whatever was inside here had something to do with that. I’d been thinking about my manifestation for a while now actually. It only happened after I was exposed to the contents of the other vial. It made me wonder how much of a true mutant I really was. If I wasn’t then what the hell was I?
“So we’re going to the farm then?”
“Almost there now actually” Hank chuckled, “you’ve been asleep for several hours.”
It was strange really.
I’d been in so much pain before, especially right before I passed out. Now, though, I felt absolutely fine. It was almost as if my body healed itself while I was unconscious. I wasn’t even sure if that was possible actually. All I knew for sure though was that I felt so overwhelmingly strong during the fight, charged with energy and now that feeling was gone. I looked at my hands, they weren’t glowing anymore either. I vaguely remembered seeing a flash of red before I passed out. Was that what it was? Some kind of discharge of my powers? I suppose any kind of hypothesis made about as much sense as anything else at this point. I was still trying to wrap my head around all of it.
Especially the fact that I beat the Ox.
I’m not sure I wanted that reputation.
I thought about asking more questions but realized most of the important ones were answered. Just as well, instead I listened as Tina started talking about the parts of the ride I missed. To me it sounded like I lucked out. Though I was happy to hear we were using Maggie’s car and not one provided by The Prowler. The last thing I needed was to owe that man a “favor”. It also turns out that when you lay an international criminal like The Minotaur at the MCO’s feet, they forget about small fry like me. They were still looking for me but not as actively as they were before. We were able to slip out of the city without anyone stopping us. So score one for me I guess.
There were still a few hurdles for me though.
We would deal with them when we got to them though.
Right now, I sat back and enjoyed what little ride we had left.
We arrived about twenty minutes later.
The farm was apparently a few miles north of Buffalo, just outside of small city that I didn’t care to remember the name of. Most of the area around here though was farmland. We followed a winding path until it finally stopped at a large white house with a barn. A fenced in area off the side had some horses. I was mesmerized. I’d seen horses before of course but never in a place like this. Most of the ones I saw were mounted by police officers. This was a new sight. A welcome one too. I turned my attention back to the house, the lights were on so I was thankful we weren’t waking anyone. A moment later, the front door opened and a woman stepped out. She was in jeans and t-shirt, her long brown hair braided to one side. Looking at her, I knew she had to be Maury’s daughter, Gloria.
A moment later, two young girls came running out from behind her. The older one was a bouncy little thing, while her younger, darker-haired sister was keeping close to her mother. I was surprised. Maury said nothing about grandchildren. Then again, maybe he didn’t know. Seeing them made me smile. This was Maury’s family. A small part of me felt at home when I saw them.
Hank shut the engine off and sighed. “Let me do the talking” he said, before opening the door and stepping out.
The look on the woman’s face said it all.
She knew who he was and didn’t want him here.
“Henry, I told him...”
Hank sighed. “Gloria, you think we can take this inside?”
She was still glaring. “Where is he? I told him never to come here!”
She was still staring daggers at him then at us in the car. Her eyes searched but when she didn’t find what they were apparently looking for, they softened some.
Hank held his head low and shook it.
I think the realization sunk in. I saw the color leave the woman’s face.
I felt for her.
“Girls, why don’t you come inside...”
“Its ok, ma’am” said Tina, getting out of the car. “We can look after them for a few minutes.”
I gave her as warm a smile as I could before getting out of the car myself.
I looked at the little kids. I was never good with kids this small. The older of the two looked to be about seven or so. Her younger sister couldn’t have been more than four. Definitely not what I wanted to do. There was something about the younger one though, how shy and scared she looked. She reminded me a bit of myself at that age. Not that I remembered much but I remembered being a quiet kid.
Tina was bent down in front of them. “I’m Tina” she said happily, “What’s your names?”
“I’m Summer” said the older girl, bouncing about.
“That’s a pretty name” said Tina, bopping her on the nose.
I looked at the younger one, taking a deep breath.
You can do this.
I bent down so I was face to face with her. “Hi, sweetie, what’s your name?”
The girl looked a little scared at first. Then her sister gave her a nudge from behind.
“I’m Riley” she said in the softest, cutest voice I’d ever heard.
It melted my heart.
“Hi, Riley” I said holding out my hand for her to shake. “I’m Gretchen, its nice to meet you.”
The little girl was hesitant at first then slowly took my hand.
As soon as she did she smiled.