Some Kind of Wonderful (Part 2)
Comics Retcon Universe 008
Some Kind of Wonderful
Charlie Sandsmark and his mother, Helena, travel around the world from one archaeological dig to another, looking for evidence of the ancient Amazonian culture. So far they have found nothing, until Charlie discovers something wonderful about himself on a small island in the Aegean Sea.
Author's Note: Here's Part Two of a brand new Retcon. I started to develop an interesting concept for what I thought was going to be a Wonder Woman story but as I started looking for ways to make her a believable teenager, I came upon Cassandra Sandsmark. A lightbulb went off in my head. I'd like to thank djkauf for the lightning quick editing and DC Comics for the use of their wonderful characters.
A bump woke me up. I opened my eyes; have expecting to find myself lying on my mother’s lap in the back of the Hummer. I was shockingly surprised to find that I was resting comfortably on a cushy airplane seat. I blinked, rubbing my stiff neck and trying to figure out how exactly I’d gotten here. I wracked my brain for answers. I remember falling asleep after our escape last night and I think I vaguely remember waking up at least once in transit. But after that, everything was a blur. I continued rubbing my neck and looked around at my surroundings. I was on a plane but from the look of things, it definitely wasn’t a commercial airliner. For one thing, everything was much closer together, the cabin was much smaller and everything had a sleek fake wood look to it.
I stretched my stiff limbs and looked out the window next to my head. It was daytime now, white fluffy clouds were passing us by. Ok, so clearly we’d been moving a lot since I fell asleep and from what I could tell it was at least morning. I looked over the seat in front of me trying to see if I was alone or not. But I got my answer pretty quick. I heard voices coming toward me, angry ones. Being taller now meant I could look over the seats in front of me and I saw Agent Faraday and my mother coming toward me. They were arguing about something and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what, especially when I heard the word “island” mentioned more than once. I groaned, shocked that my mother would still be going on about that.
When the two of them saw me, their argument quit. There was a look of relief in my mother’s eyes but it quickly disappeared. It made me happy that she at least cared a little about me. But it also pissed me off that she was still going on about that damn island. And as far as our relationship was concerned, nothing had really changed. Last night had been hectic and overwhelming for all of us and my mother’s momentary lapse in caring was just that. I’m sure as soon as we got back stateside she’d ignore me as she always has.
To confirm my theory my mother didn’t even look at me as she brushed by me. She was fuming mad at Faraday. The agent didn’t look peeved though, tired but not peeved. His gray suit jacket was gone, so was his tie. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. He looked exhausted. Clearly, he had had quite a night. I wish I knew what went on after I fell asleep. I was about to get some answers though because he sat down in the seat across from mine, trying to put on a brave face but I could see the tired look in his eyes.
“Rough night?” I asked as he ran his fingers through his hair.
In the morning light---not the dismal one from the interrogation room---I could see that his hair was actually white not white blonde like I thought. That surprised me because he didn’t look old enough to have white hair. In fact, he didn’t look old enough at all. I know his face was creased with stress lines and some battle scars but he couldn’t have been more than thirty-five. He didn’t answer me right away; instead, he looked at his watch and sighed.
When he finally spoke, it was an apology. “I’m sorry about last night; it shouldn’t have gone down like that.” I nodded. He sighed. “Intel dropped the ball there. We thought Andreas was a paper-pushing bureaucrat looking for a ladder climb. It turns out we couldn’t have been more wrong. Captain Marco Andreas has been dead for two days; they found him in a freezer in his apartment. The man and his personnel there were all plants. Everyone else was new, including the poor temp receptionist. Whoever he was he’s been planning this for a few days now.”
“Who was he?”
Faraday shook his head. “We don’t know. After we fled the scene, the Greek government sent in a team to investigate. I’ve been on and off the phone with officials all night; no one seems to know what’s going on. But as far as I can tell those men who tried to kill you on the island were mercenaries for hire.”
“Andreas told me as much” I said, he nodded. “Did they know who he was?”
Faraday shook his head. “They were dead by the time the authorities got to them. We think Andreas or whoever he was killed them after he fled the Antiquities office.” Faraday sighed. “He’s definitely made a mess of things. He’s gone, too, disappeared into the ether. We’ll try our best to pick him up again but without any proof or ID it’s going to be really difficult.”
I nodded and bit my lip. How much should I tell Faraday? I knew he was a good guy, I think. I mean the US government was the good guys, right? But how much did I trust him. Clearly, he’d proven himself last night; after all, he helped save my mother and Donna and protect them. He also got the three of us out of there but maybe that was all a part of the plan, too. I groaned, it was so damn hard. I hated that there was a piece of the puzzle he didn’t know but at the same time I wasn’t sure I could tell him about it. After all, I didn’t really understand it either. I was pretty certain what the fake Andreas was after, hell he’d told me that much. But for what end? He said his people were protectors of the Girdle but I was pretty certain that was a lie.
Faraday seemed to sense my thoughts. “I need to know exactly what you two talked about before I got there, it might be really important.”
I bit my lip. I couldn’t tell, not yet anyway. So I lied. “He wanted to know why we were on the island. He kept asking me over and over again. He seemed to think we were hiding something. He said his people were protectors of it but I think he was bull-shitting me.”
Faraday nodded. “And he didn’t say what he wanted there?”
I held my breath and shook my head. I was always a really bad liar. My grandfather used to say that I made a lousy poke player because I had more than one tell. The first being biting my lip, I did that a lot. The second was when I held my breath. That one was harder to notice but according to him, my cheeks puffed a little bit. He said it wasn’t noticeable unless you knew what to look for. Agent Faraday was staring at me, his eyes narrowed a bit. He knew I was lying but he also knew there was no way I was going to trust him. I think he understood that too. He didn’t acknowledge my lie but it was in his eyes, they kinda nodded to me in a way.
He didn’t pursue a line of questioning about the fake Andreas. Instead, he seemed more interested in me. The first question out of his mouth was “how?” I suppose I was expecting it.
But I still couldn’t trust him. “Its like you said, I’m a Meta, I think.” Hell for all I knew that could be the truth. Maybe I imagined the whole Hera thing. But feeling the gold bracelets on my wrist I knew that wasn’t the case. “It happened on the beach, one of the tomb raiders shot at me and I changed.”
He nodded. “It has been known to make its presence known that way. You’re not the first one who exhibited her powers through a traumatic event and if I know your kind, you probably won’t be the last either.”
I nodded. There was so much to take in. Now that I’d finally gotten a chance to breathe---the last twenty-four hours or so had been so hectic---I wanted to scream. I’d only been paying half attention to what he was saying in the interrogation room before but what I heard was pretty clear, there were others out there like me. And not just the superpowers bit. Most of those out there had spontaneously changed sex too. The government doesn’t know why it happens or how to stop it. They even tried to regulate, create their own hero. It worked in a way I suppose but I wasn’t really paying attention to that part.
I took a deep breath. “What happens now?”
He ran his hand through his hair again. “Nothing has been officially established yet but I unofficially work for an organization called the Bureau of Metahumans Affairs. We’re still in the early planning stages at the moment but our ultimate goal is the safety and organization of Metahumans the whole world over. Right now we’re only domestic but hopefully by the end of the year we will have a solid organization in place to help us better regulate your kind.”
Regulate, I didn’t like the sound of that. “What does that mean exactly?”
He sighed; I could hear it in his sigh. He wasn’t comfortable talking about it but what choice did he have. There was nowhere on this plane for him to run and hide from me. “There are some of you out there who are not the most sociable individuals. Some of your new brothers and sisters.” He tried to think of the proper way to word it. “Let’s just say they don’t like to play well with others.”
So that was it in a nutshell. His organization was there to make sure we played nice with others or else. It was as simple as that, get with the problem or get locked up for the rest of your life. “So where does that leave me? Are you going to burn numbers into my arm and throw me in a hole somewhere?”
He laughed. It wasn’t a very promising one but it was still a laugh. “Far from it actually. After I heard the radio chatter---heard what you could do---I was hoping that we might come to an understanding. The government already has a powerhouse, she’s a great soldier, duty bound and all that but she’s nothing like you. I was a bit reluctant about you before but after seeing your performance, you more than proved me wrong. You’re one of the most amazing people I’ve seen. You tore through those men like they were nothing and the way you deflected those bullets, stopped that car. Hell if I was fifteen years younger…”
He let that last statement slide. He was lucky; I wasn’t in the mood ending up in prison for slugging a federal agent.
“You didn’t answer my question?”
He nodded. “While you were asleep, I made some calls. The boss was very anxious to meet you but I told him you weren’t ready for that. He tried to talk me into recruiting you but I already knew how you’d answer. So instead he’s authorized me to tell you that we’ve made arrangements to have a new identity written up for you, a new passport, driver’s license, social security card, hell even a birth certificate if you want.”
“And the old me?”
What about my old life? What about my friends? My school, what the hell did all of this?
“One step at a time, Wonder Girl.”
I groaned. “Wonder Girl?”
“What, you don’t like it?”
I rubbed my temples. I didn’t have a response to that. He laughed and patted me on the knee then his phone rang. He excused himself as he pulled it from his pocket, getting up and disappearing down the aisle. I closed my eyes and fell back, falling onto the empty seat next to me. This was crazy, all of it was crazy. First being transformed by a Goddess, then getting arrested, escaping custody and now this. The American government tried to recruit me. What the hell was that about? I tried to force myself back to sleep but no matter how much I tried, it wouldn’t come. Instead I continued to lay there, my eyes closed, trying not to think about the globes on my chest as they rose up and down as I breathed. But no matter how much I tried to ignore it there was no way I could ignore the fact that I was never going to be the same again.
I felt sick. The bile rose up my throat. I snapped my eyes open and jumped up from my seat. I looked frantically around the cabin, holding it in. I clutched my stomach, looking for the bathroom. I saw it toward the back of the plane. I stumbled down the aisle, swaying. Donna was a few seats behind me, engrossed in a magazine. She saw me, dropped the periodical but I waved her off. I didn’t want her to see me puke. Instead, I stormed to the bathroom, tore open the door and slammed it shut behind me. I just made it as I fell to my knees and threw up. It was only a matter of time I suppose; after all, I’d been under a lot of stress.
I threw up two more times until there was nothing left. Not that there was much there anyway, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast yesterday morning. I got to my feet and wandered over to the mirror. I wiped my mouth and chin, groaning at the nasty tasting bile in my mouth and up my nose. I turned on the faucet, splashed water in my face and then looked into the mirror. The girl staring back at me still looked gorgeous even though she just blew chunks all over the place. I groaned, why the hell did they have to make me look so damn pretty?
Who were they? That’s what I’d like to know?
When I left the bathroom and stumbled back to my seat---feeling much better now---I found Donna sitting in the seat next to mine. I tried to look happy and surprised to see her there but to tell you the truth I was hoping for some more alone time. I needed time to figure out what the hell was going on with me and how I was going to handle it. Not that I didn’t want her around but it’s really hard to think when you’ve got someone trying to see if you’re all right. I tried my best not to look annoyed as I took my seat but I think she noticed. So when I sat down, she grabbed my head without saying a word to me and laid it on her lap. Then she proceeded to stroke my hair, petting me as if I was a cat. To tell you the truth it felt kinda nice.
As she stroked my hair, I closed my eyes. I wonder if she did this for her girlfriend, Barbara. It seemed like something two people with great affection toward one another might do. But I’m sure if Barb saw her doing it to me; she’d get really pissed off. I’d only met her once and I didn’t care for her. She was an archaeology student too, but she TA’ed under another professor---I don’t remember his name---but her specialty seemed to be in Africa at the moment. I think Barb was a little jealous that Donna landed the coveted role as my mother’s TA. It’s definitely put a strain on their relationship. I know the two of them are still happy and very much in love but Barb hated it that Donna got to go gallivanting around the world whereas she was stuck in a classroom all day.
Barb seemed like the kind of person who was short tempered and hard to please. Except when she and Donna were together, they clung onto one another and showed their love in great displays of open affection. I was a bit jealous of that.
Donna continued to stroke my head, lulling me into a sense of complacency. I didn’t even notice when she stopped. Not until she asked me the question, I was hoping she wouldn’t ask: “What’s bothering you, kiddo?”
I groaned, opening my eyes. I sat up, wiped away the tears I didn’t even realize were there and sighed. “Do you even have to ask?”
She laughed. “Ok, fair enough” She took a deep breath. “You want to talk about it?”
I shook my head but talked anyway. “This is so fucked up. I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t ask for any of it. But Hera had other plans apparently. She made me put on that stupid Girdle and now” I grabbed my breasts, hefting them up in my cupped hands. “Look at these things.”
I started crying, this time I noticed. Donna took me into her arms and allowed me to cry on her shoulder. The last time I openly cried like this was at my grandfather’s funeral. That had to be the worst day of my life. I was angry and upset for a long time afterwards. I wanted to find the bastard who killed him and make him pay for it. After the anger subsided then came the numbing pain. I cried a lot then too but I did that in secret. My grandfather was the kind of man who said, “Shed tears for those you love in public, shed tears for yourself in private.” I shed a lot of tears for myself then. But for some reason the tears I was shedding now I couldn’t hold back. I wanted to go to the bathroom and cry but it felt so nice to be held.
I cried a long time with Donna.
Then after that, the two of us sat quietly next to one another. She tried to get me to read her magazine but I wanted nothing to do with it. Some girly rag catered to fashion. You wouldn’t think that that was her kind of thing but apparently, she didn’t wear the pants in her relationship. Me, I just sat there. She did switch seats with me though so I could have the window. I found myself staring out it, lost in my own thoughts. I looked at the clouds and wondered if there was a God out there staring back at me. It’s funny how that worked out. I didn’t believe in God, at least not the Christian one. I would have said that all other Gods didn’t exist either until I’d been proven wrong. Hell, I met one, right? It made you wonder what else was out there too.
I scoffed. Remember how I mentioned Mom having a boyfriend? Well it’s nothing too serious, the two of them casually date. He’s a professor too but unlike her, he’s a strict Academic. He also only works at the university. He’s a Demonologist---yeah, I didn’t think something like that existed either until I met him. He’s cool though. He’s Mom’s age but there’s something about Jason that makes him appear a lot younger. Maybe it’s because he’s such a cool guy, strange but cool. Whenever Mom’s in town for more than a few weeks at a time---sometimes she even goes off without me---Jason comes around the house. He spends a lot of time with Mom but he also tries to entertain me too. He gave me this book he wrote, The Etrigan: The Demon Inside All of Us. It was kinda cool but it wasn’t really about real demons, more like a metaphysical one. Though he does talk often about how such a demon---in a person with a strong spirit---can actually manifest itself. Before I thought it was a load of crap but if Gods are real, maybe just maybe demons are too.
I shuddered at the thought.
I tried to think of other things for the rest of the flight. I’m not sure how long we were on the plane before I woke up but the plane landed about an hour and a half afterwards. We touched down at JFK then ten minutes later we were rushed to another plane, this time heading to O’Hare. I barely got time to grab a bit to eat---a hotdog---before we were rushed onto our new plane. This one was a commercial one. I half expected to lose Faraday in New York but he boarded with us. He explained that it was his duty to see us all safely back where we came. I think he was really keeping an eye on me. As much as he fed me the company line, I was certain there was a part of him that didn’t trust me about as much as I didn’t trust him.
We were in the air for about two hours. There were a lot of people on the flight, seeing as it was now the end of Winter Break. A lot of them were families with little kids, probably coming back from vacation. I sat wedged between an overweight elderly couple, both of them trying to show me pictures of their grandchildren at the same time. The wife also seemed a little upset with my choice of clothes. I wasn’t wearing the shorts anymore---thank God. While I was eating at JFK, Donna ran off to a little boutique and got me some pants. They were black and stretchy but tight and form fitting too. I think she called them yoga pants. The shoes were another pair of flats; ones that I promised to give to her after I ruined the pair she lent me before. So my outfit wasn’t something that someone would normally wear on a plane. At least I had a bra now, it was a sports bra but it was better than nothing. It felt much better to have my mountains supported and not swaying free.
We landed in Chicago two hours after taking off from NYC. There was a black SUV with government plates waiting for us when we left the airport. The driver was a tall stern looking man with no expression. He opened the door, allowing the three of us to get into the back while Faraday got up front with him. My stomach was a bundle of nerves and excitement. I’d left Chicago about a month or so ago as a bored, distracted slacker boy and now I was back but this time as a tall, leggy blonde knockout. It freaked me out in New York. As soon as I walked into the airport, everyone kept looking at me and whispering. A lot of people thought I was a model. The guys stared and drooled, the women stared with jealousy. At O’Hare, it was no different except I felt more nervous from the stares. It was very possible that I’d run into someone I knew and I wasn’t sure how I’d react to that.
Faraday spoke to us as soon as the car got on its way. He hadn’t spoken since leaving the private jet back in New York. “We’re going to take you FBI Headquarters first for a debriefing then I’ll make arrangements to have the three of you seen safely home.”
My mother didn’t like that one bit. “I don’t see why that’s necessary.”
Faraday smiled. “Dr. Sandsmark, as of this moment your new daughter is a threat to national security. I know she wouldn’t intentionally harm anyone but with her raw power I want to make sure that we’re all on the same page here.”
“My daughter wouldn’t harm a fly.”
I was touched and shocked at the same time. My mother had never shown this much concern for me back when I was Charlie. I couldn’t even remember the last time she used “son” and “my” in the same sentence. But it kinda freaked me out that she adjusted so quickly as to calling me her “daughter”. My apprehension wasn’t lost on Donna, who gave me a look. She smiled but I wasn’t buying it. My mother wasn’t the kind of woman to change things so easily.
“Besides” she continued, sticking a knife in my ribs. “I don’t want this to get around; my reputation is already tarnished by the island incident.”
I scoffed. Tarnished? She’s the one who tarnished it. I bit my lip and gripped the seat. I couldn’t believe her. She took this situation---my problem---and made it all about her. I would have screamed if I wasn’t afraid that I might shatter everything in the car, glass and eardrums included. Instead, I fumed. Donna tried to reassure me as she reached over and grabbed one of my hands. It was a little help but I don’t think any amount of comfort would stop me from being pissed at that woman.
The rest of the ride, my mother kept her mouth shut. I was glad. If she’s opened it, again I’m not sure if I could have kept mine shut.
We got to the FBI building and once again we were put into three different rooms. My room was a lot nicer than the one at the Antiquities building in Greece but it was pretty much the same thing. So was the Agent who interrogated me. He was a real arrogant prick named Broderick. He kept treating me like I was the bad guy. No matter how much I tried to explain my side of the thing he kept going back to how it was somehow my fault. He was starting to piss me off. At one point, I almost snapped his stupid neck. Instead, I grabbed the end of the table and bent it upwards. The look on the jackass’ face was priceless. He left the room in a rush and a new agent talked to me for the rest of time.
After the questioning---which took at least two hours---I was led to a room where I had my picture taken. The woman there said it was for my new identification. I filled out a lot of forms for that but apparently; my new name was already filled in for me: Cassandra. That had to be my mother’s doing. It was the name of the Seer at Troy, a big feminist heroic icon. I was surprised that she didn’t go with something over the top and really woman empowered like Atalanta or Diana. Cassandra I could work with.
“Cassandra” said the photographer, another woman. “That’s a pretty name, its Greek I think?”
I smiled. Close enough. The woman was a talker, she chatted me up as she finished snapping few shots then loaded it up into the computer. I was amazed at how quickly she did it. I looked at the program over her shoulder, seeing her place my photo into a Driver’s license format. It boggled my mind. When I first learned to drive last year–my grandmother’s Prius actually---it took me weeks to get my license in the mail. I suppose that’s how the DMV worked. But here she was, typing in all my information. I watched as she typed, wondering what my new ID was going to be like. She filled my age in as seventeen, which I guess, was as correct as it was going to be. I don’t officially turn seventeen until February nineteenth but technically, you’re seventeen for the whole year leading up to that. At least that’s how I see it anyway. That’s how my mother saw it too. The only one who liked to celebrate my birthday on my actual birth was my grandmother. My mother always said that the “ritual was antiquated and stupid. Who would want to celebrate becoming a whole year older and closer to death?”
That’s Mom for you.
“Wow honey, you’re a natural,” said the woman as she centered my picture. “Have you thought of doing photos professionally?”
I shrugged. “I’ve only been a girl for less than twenty-four hours I haven’t really thought of anything.”
She smiled weakly at that. She printed out my new ID a few minutes later, her chatty nature gone after that. I couldn’t blame her I suppose. She probably thought we were all freaks. To tell you the truth, I kinda felt that way, too. I thanked her and took the card. I looked at the picture. Usually these things are hideous right, isn’t that how it works? Well looking at the smiling blonde girl staring back at me---Cassandra Elizabeth Sandsmark, Age 17 F---I was surprised at how gorgeous she looked, I mean how gorgeous I looked.
Outside the photo room, Faraday was leaning against the wall. There was a yellow envelope in his hand. He nodded to me as I walked out. He was wearing a new suit, freshly pressed by the looks of it. His hair was nicely combed too and it looked like he’d gotten some coffee in him because he didn’t look so exhausted anymore.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the envelope.
He handed it over. “The new you, Miss Sandsmark.”
I took it reluctantly. “Just like that?”
He nodded as the two of us walked down the hall. We didn’t say anything until we got to the door at the end of it. He stopped and gestured to a vacant room. We slipped inside and turned on the lights. He looked around to make sure we really were alone but seeing that it was vacant, I’m not sure why he was being so paranoid. When his check was over, he shut the door.
“I just got off the phone with my superiors” he said, his voice calm and soft. “I’m going to be sticking around here for a month or so to make sure that you acclimate to your new lifestyle.”
I nodded. “Keeping an eye on me? Making sure I don’t destroy a city block?”
He smiled. “The video footage from the Antiquities building has made its way to them. They feel that someone with your talents should be monitored just to make sure you’re not a bigger threat than you are. I tried to argue your case but they’re insistent that I remain here for at least a month to make sure that you don’t do anything that might cause a problem later down the road.”
“They’re scared of me?” I smirked; it was funny to think of myself a National Security threat.
He nodded. “You’re an unknown. They don’t like unknowns. After the monthly grace period, if you’ve proven yourself to be a team player than they’ll authorize me to leave you alone. But if you prove to be too much to handle, I’m authorized to bring you by any means necessary.”
“Is that a threat, Agent Faraday?”
This time he smirked. “A warning.”
I didn’t like that. I didn’t like it one bit. Now I knew I couldn’t trust this guy. Not only was he going to be lurking about for a month, he’d probably be watching me too. I’m not sure if I liked that at all. But frankly, I don’t think he cared. It was how the government ran things now. If they didn’t like something, they surveillanced the hell out of it. The message was pretty clear: be a good girl or they were going to come for me. I suppressed a laugh. They saw what I did in Greece; they’d have to come at me with a lot of firepower to take me out. And guess what, I wasn’t planning to go down without a fight.
After all that, we didn’t say a thing to one another. He led me out of the room, through the door and into a cushy waiting room. Mom and Donna were waiting for us. Donna ran over and gave me a hug. I exchanged a hard look with Faraday over her shoulder; he shot one right back.
Donna let go of me and smiled.
“Welcome to the sisterhood, Cassie.”
I smiled, Cassie huh? I could live with that, too.
Once again, Faraday drove with us in the SUV. Like before, our small group didn’t do much talking, which was fine by me. I tried my best to keep myself preoccupied by looking out the window. There was a lot of stuff rolling around my head, the first and foremost among those things is what happens now. My life was completely turned upside down. I’d already decided a while ago---especially after her recent treatment---that I couldn’t go back into the city with my mother. We moved from my grandparent’s home a few months ago, my mother bought a two-bedroom apartment on the east side of the city. Even though she wouldn’t admit it, I think being in that house reminded her too much of what she missed. Part of that had to do with my grandfather. Even though they didn’t have the greatest relationship, my mother did love the man.
Me, I hated the city. I tried to talk my mother out of moving but she got pretty damn insistent upon it. The strangest thing was that it kinda came out of nowhere. One day we were talking about using some of my grandfather’s life insurance money to build an extension and the next thing I knew my Mom wanted to move out. I think she and grandma got into a fight. The morning that mom decided to move, she was in a particularly grumpy mood. Then we moved to the city, regardless of my complaints. I had to leave the few friends I had and move to a whole new school. The worst part, I was there only for about a week before Winter Break started, then Mom and I were off to Greece.
We pulled up to the college to drop Donna off first. She lived off campus but there was some work in the library my mother wanted her to do. No rest for the weary. Usually I’d get out of the cab and help her with her bags. But we weren’t in a cab and she had no bags---none of us did except Mom. But I got out of the SUV anyway, walking with her a little bit so Mom and Faraday couldn’t hear our conversation.
“You going to be ok, kiddo?”
I shrugged. “I can’t live with that woman anymore.”
She smiled weakly and nodded. “Are you sure?”
“She doesn’t care about me, she doesn’t even try. I can’t deal with that anymore. I’m going back to The Gates to live with grandma.”
She nodded. “I’ll come by in a couple of days to see how you’re doing.”
I teared up a bit and she hugged me. We hugged for a while. Since the change, we’d gotten real close. I know that sounds crazy, seeing how short a time it was but it was true. I used to be so attracted to her that I couldn’t look at her. She still was attractive but now there was something else. I felt this bond with her, this connection that wasn’t there before. Maybe this is what it felt like to have an older sister.
After she pulled away, I slowly trudged back to the vehicle. I slid in, not even looking at Mom. She didn’t look at me either. Neither one of us had anything to say to one another anyway. She was unwilling to see anything from my point of view. And I was tired of trying to explain things to her. So we were at an impasse, one that I was certain she didn’t want to help resolve. Which was fine by me because I was done trying to get her to see things that were clearly in front of her face!
Our apartment was only a few blocks from the school, in an apartment block that was usually meant for students. But my mother wanted something close so she didn’t have to go very far to get to class. She said it was bad enough that she had to take the bus to get to the museum every day. Our apartment wasn’t the best place to be---smack dab in the middle of two guys that belonged in a frat but my mother didn’t seem to complain. I suppose it wasn’t all bad though. A few weeks before we moved, my friend Connor moved into the city, too. He used to live next door with his father. Then his father---a journalist---got a new job and moved to San Francisco. Connor moved into the city to live with his college age cousin. The two of us were still friends because we lived so close but because he was such a football star, he got to go to the same school whereas I had to change to a city one.
We pulled up outside the brownstone block. Faraday got out before us, nodding to the driver as he did so. The driver got out too and we were told to stay put. The two of them walked up to the building and slipped inside. I’m not sure what the deal was but I’m sure they had their reasons. Me, I sat and watched the cars zip by. The city was too big and too cramped for me. I missed everything about my home. I missed my room; I missed the woods and the huge backyard. I missed waking up every morning to the smell of my grandmother’s cooking. I missed being able to talk to an adult and not be treated like I was some kind of diseased rodent.
“We’re going to need to get you enrolled into a new school,” said my mother, as if we’d been having a continuing conversation for the last few minutes.
I turned from the window. “What?”
“Well clearly they know who you are at the one you were in before; we’ll have to get you into another.”
“Mom, I was there for like five minutes.”
Truthfully, it was about a week. I’m not even sure why she bothered enrolling me---especially so close to Break. But if there was one thing about my mother that I actually liked it was her insistence that I get a good education on matter what. She made sure that I went to school every day even if I didn’t want too. Lazy people didn’t get into college, that’s what she always used to say to me if I wanted to stay home. When I was sick I had to be really sick---temp over one hundred---to get her to let me stay home and even then, I wasn’t off the hook. But I may have mentioned before, I’m not really big on school. I do all right but ever since grandpa passed, it’s just not the same.
“We’ll have to enroll you in Sacred Heart. I know someone on the Board; they can get you in there with no questions asked.”
Sacred Heart was a Catholic school for girls, it was known for its stuck up bitches. Connor dated a girl from there a couple of months ago and she was horrible to him. She only wanted to be with him to help her social standing. There was no way in hell I was going to let her stick me in that school. Besides, thinking about those tiny skirts made me shudder.
“Well you’re not going to public school” she said “not with your new gifts. You’ll be ostracized.”
I scoffed. “Since when do you care about how people treat me?”
She didn’t say anything. Of course, she wouldn’t say anything. That was typical Mom. When she spoke, it was a change of subject. Also typical Mom. “We can discuss this inside later.”
Inside? I shook my head. There was going to be no inside. “I’m not going into the apartment.”
“What are you talking about?”
I took a deep breath. This was it, no turning back now. “I’m not going in there because I’m not living there anymore.”
“What are you talking about?”
I took another breath. “I’m moving back in with grandma.”
She laughed. She actually laughed at me. “”Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not the ridiculous one around here, you are. You treat me like I’m some kind of thing the dog dragged in from the mud. You’ve never treated me like a son, not even when I was born. You say you’re my mother but you let your parents raise me. You’re not my parent, they are. You only tolerate me because grandpa told you to stop being an ass and take some responsibility.” My anger was starting to rise. “I’m sick and tired of this shit. I’m sick and tired of you and the way you treat me, the way you treat others. I can’t stand around anymore and take your shit.” The last bit I yelled. “I’M MOVING OUT AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO STOP ME!”
When I finished I swore I heard a crack of thunder somewhere. But the skies were clear. I shook the thought away; it was probably my imagination. My mother’s face was pale and I could see something in her eyes. They were starting to water up a bit but she turned her head away so I couldn’t see her cry. When she snapped back around, she was ready for a fight.
“How dare you speak to me that way?”
I scoffed. “I’ll speak to you with the respect you deserve which is none. Until you start showing me some I’m not going to show you any.”
“I won’t allow it,” she said, raising her voice. “You’re my so…child. I’m not going to let you run off like…I’m not going to let you do anything that I don’t approve of”
“What are you going to do ground me?” I laughed. “I’ll just rip the God damn door off. You can’t stop me. I’ve made up my mind. I’m moving in with grandma and that’s final.”
I punched my fist into the roof of the vehicle. There was a loud strain of flesh on metal. I pulled my hand away, leaving a fist imprint there. The part of the roof I punched was now bent upwards. I bit my lip. My mother stared at me. I saw the fear in her eyes, the shock. I was a little scared, too. Tears welled into the corners of my eyes and I wanted so much to cry into her lap. Instead, I turned away and she ignored me. A real mother would have tried to comfort but not this woman---not Helena Sandsmark. She turned her back on me, turned her back on her child when he…err…she needed her the most.
Faraday and the driver came back to the SUV. As soon as they got close, Faraday smiled.
“All clear ladies, you’re ok to go in.”
My mother opened the door of the SUV and slipped outside. She didn’t say anything to Faraday. She slammed the door shut and stormed toward our apartment---correct that... her apartment. She didn’t even turned back when she stormed up the steps and went inside. Good riddance. I couldn’t deal with her right now anyway. But then why was I crying. I reached up and wiped the tears from my cheek. I groaned. Stupid girl emotions.
“You’re not going in?”
I shook my head. “Take me to my grandmother’s”
Faraday nodded and got into the SUV. I didn’t look back either as the vehicle drove off. I was never going to look back at her.
My grandmother lives in a gated community north of Chicago; it was my home for the last sixteen years of my life. Well, home until very recently. The community is called Green Meadows but a lot of us locals---kid locals actually---we call it “Gateway City” or “The Gates”. It’s a stupid name, I’m not really sure who came up with it but I think it might have been Connor. Stupid names were his forte. He liked to give everything a stupid name. But I suppose that’s better than what everyone called him. Me, I was the “Lone Loser”, yeah whoever thought up that one was pretty smart---yeah right? Connor, because he was the football star---everyone called him “Super-boy”. You’d think he would have liked it too, but Connor is a strange guy like that.
The main entrance to the Gates was a large, well, gate. It had a GM on each side so when it opened the two of them split apart. There was a single guard booth and only one guard on duty at a time. I knew them all by heart, the guy on duty now was Frankie. He was a little older man with a potbelly and a balding head. He was a good guy though and may not have looked it but he was a sharpshooter when it came to that gun of his. At least that what he liked to tell people. One look at our SUV–with the dented fist imprint on the roof–caused him to raise an eyebrow when he came to the window.
“This is a gated community folks; you need permission from a home owner to enter.”
The driver rolled down his window. Faraday put on that charming smile of his and then flipped his badge. “Agent Faraday, Homeland Security. We’re expected.”
Frankie’s eyes got as big as saucers. I think it was probably the first time he’d seen a Fed up close and in person. His shock disappeared quickly though as he went to the computer and checked the list. It didn’t take him very long until he came back and nodded. He pushed the buzzer, the gates opened, parting the G and the M and we drove on inside. The Gates was a typical suburban community, with a layout that looked like several giant circles if viewed from above. There were two cul-de-sacs, grandma lived in the one that they called “West Court” I think they were trying to be fancy. I directed the driver, knowing how difficult this place could be if you didn’t know where you were going. Most of the houses were cookie cutter ranch homes, built sometime in the seventies. There were a few though---like grandma’s---that had been here before the community.
I guided the way from the backseat, pointing out when to take a left or a right. After several twisting turns, we finally arrived at the proper cul-de-sac. There were two ways to tell grandma’s house from everyone else’s. The first being that it was in the center of the cul-de-sac, right smack ahead. The other being that out of the seven houses on this cul-de-sac, here’s was the only one that looked like it had been there for a while. It was a huge Colonial with red brick and a covered porch. Off to the side was the detached garage, above which was a guest room that we generally used for storage. There were ten rooms in the house but I couldn’t remember the last time someone slept in all of them. There were five windows on top facing the road and five facing the back. It was a huge house, built sometime after the Revolutionary War or at least that’s what grandpa told me.
The house once belonged to one his ancestors, a senator I think. All the land around the home used to belong to his family at one time. But over the years---through one means or another---a lot of it had been sold. We still had a good chunk of it but not nearly as much as we should. My grandfather always used to say that all that land went to waste anyway. I had to agree with him. When I was younger there were only four other houses in the cul-de-sac, the two on either side were brand new in the last five or six years or so. Grandpa and I used to have to mow both sides, it took us hours---him on the driving mower, me with the push.
When we got into the driveway, I saw the front door open. I got a lump in my throat. Agent Faraday had called grandma ahead of time, told her what to expect. I didn’t talk to her---I was too nervous---but she said she’d be waiting for me. She was true to her word too. As soon as the SUV hit the end of the driveway, she stepped out onto the porch. My grandmother was in great condition for her age. She never had to work because of my grandfather’s family money and now that he was gone, ---she being his only living relative---she inherited the whole thing. So she was really well off which allowed her some of the finer things in life. For instance, she played golf every other day, went to aerobics classes on Thursdays and had swimming every other Saturday. Green Meadows catered well to the elderly. Not that I’d ever call grandma elderly.
“I’m not sure I can do this,” I said nervously, looking at the short white lady standing by my grandfather’s favorite chair.
“She understands everything,” said Faraday “in fact she said she’s excited to meet you and doesn’t care what you look like anymore. You’ll always be her grandchild.”
I smiled. That sounded like something grandma would say.
I nodded and grabbed the door handle, gently pushing the door open. I was still wearing the clothes Donna got for me at the airport in NYC---not having time to change. So I probably looked quite the sight stepping out of the SUV looking like I’d just gotten back from the Gym. As soon as I was fully out of the car, I could see the look on my grandma’s face. It was hard to read at first---her being hidden in the porch shade and all. I shivered, cursing myself for lack of jacket. It was cold in Greece but there hadn’t been any snow on the ground. Here it looked like a winter wonderland. I suppose that was typical for January but I couldn’t remember the last time we’d had this much snow on the ground.
My grandmother stepped off the porch---wearing a thick winter coat, clothes and Wellington boots. She crunched her way down the partially shoveled drive. I tensed my body, wondering what her reaction was going to be. Her face was still unreadable. When she got to me, she paused and looked up. My grandmother is just five foot and before I was about five or six inches taller but now, I was a giant to her. She stared up at me for a few seconds, probably taking it all in. Then she did something that made me instantly melt. She held her arms open and I was in them even before I knew it. I cried and she hugged me. She told me soothing things---how much she loved me---that kind of stuff.
After a few minutes hugging, she pulled away, wiping at tears of her own. She took my hands in hers, moving my arms apart as far as she could. “My you are a big one aren’t you? Might be useful around the house, what with a little thing like me” She winked and I smiled.
Right then and there, I knew everything was going to be all right.
I introduced Faraday to her. My grandmother hugged him too. She probably would have hugged the driver if he’d gotten out of the vehicle. My grandmother was a hugger.
“I want to thank you, Agent for protecting my girls out there,” She said this while clinging to my arm.
I felt nice and secure there.
“I was doing my job ma’am.”
He flashed her that smile and I felt my grandmother go weak at the knees. I wanted to roll my eyes but then I remembered the effect it had on me. The one that I wasn’t willing to admit. He was an attractive man and that’s all I’ll say about that.
“You gentlemen are welcome to come inside for a spot of cocoa?”
Faraday sighed. “As lovely as that sounds, Mrs. Kapatelis, I have to get back to the city. There’s a lot of paperwork I need to file and I have a video conference with the boss in a few hours.” Grandma sighed and nodded. Then Faraday turned to me. “I’d like to have a moment, Cassie, if you wouldn’t mind.”
My grandmother let go of my arm. It took me a second to realize I was Cassie. Then I followed him as he walked around to the other side of the SUV. He opened the passenger side door and took out yellow envelope. I had the one with my new life safely in my back pocket. This one didn’t look as bulky. He ripped the top then emptied the contents into his hand, there were only two things: a sleek black cell phone and a white chess piece, a Bishop I think.
He handed me the phone. “This is standard Government Issue, state-of-art, equipped with a scramble and a satellite uplink. There’s already a number preprogrammed in there. I want you to call that number whenever you are going to leave the house and one of my Agents will come and escort you.”
I frowned at that. I didn’t like the idea of being followed everywhere I went. “Am I that much of a threat?”
He shook his head. “On the contrary, Agent Chase is going to be there to protect you. Not only from yourself but others too. I have a feeling that we won’t be seeing the last of Andreas or whoever the hell he really was. She’ll tail you at a safe distance, most of the time you won’t even know she’s there.”
I nodded but I still didn’t like it. “What’s the chess piece for?”
He smiled, handing it to me. “This is in case you get into serious trouble. If something happens, something really bad I want you to put this in your bedroom window. It doesn’t matter where it’s placed, I’ll know it’s there and I’ll come.”
I nodded again, clutching both items as gently as I could. I didn’t want to break my new toys. He smiled and stuck out his hand. I switched the Bishop into my phone hand and shook it. His grip was surprisingly weak for a man of his caliber. Then again most men probably had a weak grip compared to me now. That brought a little smile to my face.
“You’ve been given a new lease on life, Cassandra Sandsmark, I wish you luck and hope that you and I never have to meet face to face ever again.”
I smiled. “Is that a good thing?”
He nodded. “It’s a very good thing.”
Then he turned and climbed into the SUV. He shut the door without saying another word. A few seconds later, the engine roared to life. I stepped back to keep them from running over my toes. They backed down the driveway, made a quick turn and were gone. I sighed and turned back to the house. This was my home, this was my life. I smiled at my grandmother as she waved from the porch.
Then I waved back.
“I’ll put you up in your Aunt Vanessa’s room,” said grandma as she led me down the second floor hallway.
The hall was kinda cramped but was long and narrow too. Like I said before, there were about ten rooms here, five in front and five in back. The front rooms were mainly bedrooms while the back were used for different things, my grandfather’s office being one of them. My bedroom---the one I used before we moved---was the first on the left. Aunt Vanessa’s room---her old one that is---was at the end of the hall. I’d never actually got to meet her. She was my mother’s younger sister and like Mom, she left home shortly after school. But whereas Mom went to college, Aunt Vanessa disappeared. Every once and a while throughout my childhood my grandparents used to get post cards from here, from one place or another. But in the last five years or so there was nothing. It was like she disappeared off the map, which grandma took pretty hard.
We stopped in front of Vanessa’s door; grandma pulled a key out of her pocket. She paused before unlocking it. I wonder when the last time she’d actually opened it. I put my hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. I felt the tension leave her and she put the key in the lock. She opened the door and it was like stepping into the eighties. The room was like a little time capsule, so clearly no one had been in here in a long time indeed. The carpet was a bland yellow green, the walls a really faded light pink. There was a vanity, a desk, a dresser and a large bed smack dab in the middle of the room. The bed was a canopy, covered with stuff animals. There were 80’s Rocker posters on the walls and a lava lamp in the corner. Everything was covered with an inch of dust.
My grandma frowned. “Clearly it needs a bit of cleaning.”
She walked through the room and went to the window, pulling it open. It was a bit cold for that but I guess it was the best way to air things out. I walked over to the bed and frowned. The bedspread was pink and all the stuffed animals seemed to be staring at me. It was kinda creepy but I guess I couldn’t complain. I was a girl now---a teenage girl. The room was in a desperate need of an upgrade but it would do for now.
Grandma turned from the window. “Right” she said, slapping her hands together, sending a cloud of dust filtering through the room. “Just a bit of cleaning and it should be fine.”
I bit my lip, afraid to ask. In the end though I had too. “Is there any way I can take some of this stuff out of here.”
She didn’t say anything for a second. Then she looked around the room, clearly noticing how out of date everything was. Then she smiled. “Of course you can sweetie. This stuff is ancient.”
Then she walked over and opened the closet. The clothes in there were a bit outdated too. But apparently retro was in, right? My grandma pulled out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, tossing them on the bed. Then she went over to the dresser, taking out some underwear from the top drawer. Then she stopped and looked at me. She frowned, holding a bra in her hand.
“I think you might be a little bigger than her,” she said, putting the bra back.
I flushed in embarrassment. Then looked at the jeans. “Will those fit?”
Grandma looked at them. “How tall are you now dear?”
I flushed again. “Six three now.”
Her eyes opened wide. I think she was surprised at how tall I’d shot up. Hell, I was just as shocked. I figured I was tall, I thought about six three before but it was confirmed when they took my measurements at the FBI office. Six foot three and a hundred and seventy five pounds. Not that you could tell I weighed that much---or little---I’m not sure what a girl would think that was. Anyway, most of my body was lean muscle with very little fat. As I said before, I was prime for the WNBA.
“Well, you’ll have to wear your own underwear of course, but I think those jeans and that shirt should fit. Vanessa was about five ten I think. It’ll be all right to walk around here at least. Tomorrow you and I can do some shopping.”
I groaned. That was the moment I was dreading. Clothes shopping, I knew it was coming. But I thought maybe I could get away with just wearing the yoga clothes for a few days.
Grandma laughed. “Comes with the territory now, sweetheart.”
I huffed,dropping onto the corner of the bed. She came over, sat down next to me and gave me a big hug. We stayed like that for a few minutes. After that, I got dressed. My grandma didn’t leave like she usually used to when I was Charlie but then again we were both girls now. I tried to undress and dress as quickly as possible. I wasn’t quite ready to fully look at my naked body---well, half naked because I was wearing the sports bra and my old underwear. My grandma didn’t like the boy briefs---for one they looked ridiculous. She said we’d remedy all of that tomorrow. I groaned some more. The shirt was purple and a bit tight, especially around the chest area but it was good for now. The jeans were a bit tight, too and a bit short but like she said before we’d only be house today.
After dressing, the real work began.
My grandma left and a few minutes later came back with some boxes and cleaning supplies. Then the two of us set to work making the room presentable. We dusted, polished and scrubbed every surface. We took the posters off the walls, threw away all of Vanessa’s old makeup and then boxed up everything I wasn’t going to use. We ended up filling up three boxes with clothes, knick-knacks and stuffed animals. Sorry, Aunt V, but there was no way I was going to have those creepy things staring at me. After that, I stacked all three boxes and in one arm carried them to one of the spare rooms that we used for storage. My grandma’s mouth dropped open when she saw this feat of strength.
When I got into the room, she was sitting on the bed. The room looked a lot different. It was bared now, stripped of everything that was Vanessa. I smiled at grandma, wondering if we did the right thing. She smiled back as I walked over and sat down next to her. She didn’t say anything for a while. I reached over and grabbed her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.
Then she turned to me, clearing her throat. “Darling, do you want to talk about it?”
I smiled. I guess I was expecting this. So I opened my mouth and told her the whole story, starting from the beginning and not leaving out a thing.
“Wake up sweetie!”
When I opened my eyes, I was confused because I had no idea where I was. The room around me was unfamiliar, the bed too soft, the frilly pink canopy above me too foreign. At first, I thought I was in a freaky nightmare. That is until I saw my grandmother smiling at me. She was standing near my bedside, waiting patiently for me to get my bearings. I sighed and remembered. The events of the last day or so came flooding back to me. I relaxed a bit, the new protrusions on my chest heaving up and down as I let out a big sigh. I looked down at them and frowned. My new life and new situation came flooding back, too. I wasn’t in Greece anymore; I was back home, my real home. Mom was in the city now, probably stewing over the fact that I grew a pair and finally stood up to her. It is funny that losing my balls made me actually grow some.
“I got confused for a moment,” I mumbled, still clutching the covers to my chest.
My grandma sighed. “Very understandable, dear. You’ve had a busy few days” She looked at the clock on the wall. Then back at me. “Why don’t you take a nice hot shower, I’ll make some breakfast and then you and I can make some plans for the rest of the day.”
I smiled. “That sounds nice.”
“I’ll leave you to it then.”
She turned and left the room. Me, I stayed in bed for a few more minutes, thinking things over. After I had told her everything, I cried for a long time. She held me for a long time, too. It was kinda therapeutic actually, getting everything off my chest. I told her everything, too, not leaving a thing out. She took it surprisingly well, considering that I must have sounded like a lunatic. Unlike Faraday, I trusted my grandmother more than anyone else in the world. I knew if anyone could understand what I was going through, it would definitely be her. I was right, too. She told me that “there are strange things in this world and that anything is possible because of them.” Then she went on to explain that it was actually stories of Ancient Greece and the Amazons that got my mother interested in history in the first place. My grandfather used to tell me similar stories, too. I suppose they had more of an effect on Mom then they did on me.
I threw off the covers and groaned. After talking and a quick dinner---grandma made me go to bed. Not that I could blame her, I was exhausted. Too many time changes and things like that I guess. Before hitting the sack last night, she gave me an oversized shirt that apparently belonged to my grandfather. She told me that young women didn’t sleep in the clothes they wore the day before. So I reluctantly stripped out of my Aunt Vanessa’s old things and pulled the shirt over my head. I think I conked out pretty quickly after that because I don’t remember anything more. Now staring down at the shirt, my new assets tenting it out in front of me, I groaned some more. The shirt was a gift from me. I bought it for him from one of the numerous shops he and I used to frequent on our way to some of our camping trips. It wasn’t much---just some scenic picture of a mountainside. But he liked it. He used to wear it on all our trips after that.
I climbed out of bed, stretched then did some scratching. Not my butt, my chest. It was kinda irritated; apparently, I should have sleep without the bra. I think this girl thing was going to be a lot harder than I thought. I thumped through the room and to the door. Upon opening it, I found a towel and a fluffy pink bathrobe sitting on the chair in the hall. I guess my grandma expected me to use them. I snatched them up without much thought and made my way to the bathroom. Only the master had a built in bath. There were actually three other bathrooms on this floor, the one I was currently in was the largest. It was the one I usually used.
I pulled the oversized shirt over my head and let it drop to the floor. Then I turned to the mirror, she was still there, the new me I mean. She looked a little more bedraggled this morning but she was still as beautiful as ever. For the first time I got a full look at my naked form. I wasn’t one for looking at Playboy magazines or watching porn like some of my other perverted friends. I knew what a naked girl looked like---hell, they showed up all over TV and movies these days---but I didn’t go out of my way to find one. Staring at this naked form---this new body of mine---I half expected to feel something. Every guy, whether they’d admit it or not, got a little stiff looking at naked girls. Now that I wasn’t a guy, I felt no arousal whatsoever. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad one.
I sighed, trying not think about it. I turned on the water, washed my hands, threw some of it into my face then went into the shower. The first thing I noticed as soon as I stepped into the hot stream was how sensitive my new body was. As soon as the water hit me, it sent goose bumps all over my body. Girls were more sensitive in some areas than guys ever were. My chest tingled, my larger nipples got hard and pointy and down below started to tingle. I closed my eyes, trying to block off these sensations as I grabbed the soap and started to wash myself. I kept my eyes closed the entire time I was in the shower, not quite ready to see what I was feeling as I washed.
I was in the shower for about ten minutes. I wash quickly. Afterwards I went pee. I’m not going to give you all the gory details there, suffice to say it was a lot different than before. It wasn’t the first time I’d peed as a girl but it was the first time that I actually had time to think about it. The other few times I was a bit preoccupied with running for my life and all those things. After peeing, I brushed my teeth and washed my hands. I went back to my new room, put on the clothes from before and headed downstairs. At the bottom of which, I could breakfast.
My grandma was in the kitchen, flipping pancakes. I sniffed the air, there was sizzling bacon too, and eggs I think. I smiled, trying to remember the last time I’d had a proper meal. Mom didn’t do much cooking. Not that she had much time to anyway. If she wasn’t teaching, she was at the museum doing research. So most of our meals either consisted of fast food or take out. When we used to live here with grandma, she did all the cooking. It was usually more than one course, too. Before my mother and Aunt Vanessa came around, grandma used to cook at a little diner in the city. But after my mother, she quit to be a full-time mother. Not that she and grandpa really needed the money, but I think she liked to work. She liked to cook too. She always used to say it was therapeutic. I’d have to take her word for it. Though she tried to teach me on countless occasions, I always seemed to screw it up.
My grandma plated the pancakes and carried them to the center of our little table. The kitchen was one of the bigger rooms in the house. It had a lot of counter and cabinet space and an island in the center. It was pretty modern and up-to-date too. Our little table was built into the wall, with long polished wooden benches instead of individual chairs. The big table was in the dining room but we never used it unless we were celebrating a major function like a birthday or holiday. Though my mother didn’t believe in birthdays, my grandma said they were special times to celebrate and cherish. Sometimes I wondered how such a happy and caring woman ever raised my cold and bitter mother.
“Donna called while you were in the shower,” said grandma as she plated the bacon and eggs and brought them over too. “She’s going to take you shopping as soon as breakfast is over.”
She got a couple of plates from the cupboard, handing me one.
“You’re not coming?” I asked as I served myself.
“You don’t want an old thing like me getting in the way,” she said as she sat down, getting some food for herself. “Besides I have some things I want to do around here.”
I couldn’t imagine what. It was winter, so she didn’t have to do gardening---one of her greatest hobbies---and most of the yard work was done by hired hands. After my grandfather died, my grandma paid to have most of the outside housework done. I tried to lend a hand wherever I could but after Mom and I moved out, she was all alone. It always pissed me off that mom did that to her but grandma didn’t mind. She said she liked having some privacy but I think she was only saying that to make me feel better. Looking at her now---sitting there with a big smile on her face---I think she was happy to have me here. I was happy, too. Mom may have given birth to me but this woman sitting across from me was my true mother.
Grandma clicked the TV on. We had a small flat screen in the kitchen, mounted on the wall. We didn’t usually watch it but I guess things changed. On the screen, a pretty blonde anchor appeared. Grandma turned up the volume.
“The country is still mourning the death of great industrialist and entrepreneur Jameson Queen. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Queen was found dead in his penthouse four nights ago, though the details of his death are still a mystery, Mr. Queen had been ill for some time. Funeral arrangements have been made with a funeral set for tomorrow morning. The future of Queen Industry still remains in the open while some insiders believe that the whole of the company might pass to Mr. Queen’s granddaughter.”
“So tragic” said my grandma with a sigh. “He was a fine man. Did I tell you that he helped fund some of grandfather’s treasure hunts?”
I smiled and nodded. My grandfather and Mr. Queen were old poker buddies back in the day. I didn’t know the specifics but they used to go beating around the bush together in their youth, always looking for the next great adventure. That was before grandpa met grandma of course. I only knew of Queen from grandpa’s stories. I hadn’t heard of his death, which was as grandma said very tragic.
The newscaster switched stories. “And on a more local front, the Black Bandits have struck again.” A grainy image of four, black suited individuals appeared on the screen. “The lithe robbers broke into a Wayne Enterprise warehouse over the weekend, putting four guards in the hospital and making off with thousands of dollars in goods and merchandise. The Chicago police department is asking anyone with information on these dangerous fugitives to please call 555-…”
My grandma muted the TV and shook her head. “That’s all that seems to be on lately. Its either crime or super-heroes.”
I hated being out of the loop but grandma quickly filled me. She told me all about Jade and Terra and that American Dream girl that Agent Faraday mentioned. There might have been a few more but grandma said she wasn’t really following it. We talked a little more about some current events that I wasn’t really up-to-date on. Then the doorbell rang. Grandma excused herself to answer and came back a minute or two later with Donna, the two of them already in conversation. This wasn’t the first time that Donna had been here, she used to eat here all the time and she did about as much work here in the library---yeah, we have one---as Mom did.
Grandma fixed her up and plate as she sat next to me. “Morning, kiddo.”
“Morning” I said cheerfully with a mouth half full of food.
“Manners are the first thing you need to learn, young lady,” said grandma as she handed Donna a plate.
Grandma and Donna laughed, I blushed.
This being a girl thing was going to be a lot harder than I thought.
When they were finished laughing, Donna put a bag on the table. It was a shopping bag, from one of the local boutiques. It was popular with girls my age as I saw a lot of those bags when we went into the city to shop. Looking at the bag and the smile on Donna’s face, I kinda had a feeling what was in there and for whom. She answered my fears when she reached inside and started taking out clothes. I groaned, knowing what was coming.
“I thought the whole purpose for you being here so we could go shopping.”
“It is,” she said, taking all the garments out of the bag. “But you can’t go shopping in clothes that are a few sizes too small. So I stopped by on the way here, got a few things in your size so you wouldn’t look like a complete spaz.”
I groaned again. “You’re having fun with this aren’t you?”
She smiled and tossed a pair of jeans at me. “Oh, yeah! Now go put these on. We have a lot of places to go and very little time to do so.”
I groaned for the third time as she put everything back into the bag and tossed it at me. I finished eating first, there was no way she was going to deny me that. I was starved, too, and ate like I hadn’t in days. I devoured everything, even went back for seconds. Both of them commented on how girls needed to watch their figures but I didn’t care. I ate like a horse. Even after my third helping, I didn’t feel full. After that, there was nothing left so I was forced to leave and change. I dressed in the downstairs bathroom, which was just off to the left of the sitting room next to the kitchen. The girls fit like a glove, a little too good actually. At least they were the right size. The shirt was red and unfortunately had no sleeves. I didn’t like that one bit but seeing as it was the only one, I didn’t have much of a choice. The underwear were white briefs, meant for girls not boys. I put those on first by the way---there was no commando for me. I still wore the sports bra, and the shoes were another pair of sandals.
When I was finished, I came back into the kitchen to find grandma on the phone, talking to someone. There was a white business card in her hand; I recognized it as the one Faraday gave me yesterday. I groaned, forgetting that he told me I was supposed to call that number if I wanted to leave. I hated the fact that I needed a babysitter every time I left the house but I guess it was the only way the government could feel secure about themselves or something.
My grandma hung up the phone. “The Agent will be here in a few minutes then the three of you can leave.”
I could tell by the grandma’s tone that she didn’t like the fact that the government was keeping tabs on me either.
My grandma lived in the village of Schaumburg, which was actually about thirty miles northwest of Chicago. One of its main attractions was the Woodfield Mall. The Mall was our destination for the afternoon. After my grandma made the call, my Agent Babysitter arrived about thirty minutes later in a black SUV similar to the one that dropped me off yesterday. What surprised me most that it was a woman. She introduced herself as Cameron Chase---she didn’t put agent in front of that either, I think she was trying to be casual. She was dressed casually after all in jeans and a black leather jacket over a tan shirt. Her long blonde hair was loose on her shoulders but there was no mistaking that there was nothing casual about her. She had a stern look to her and if I wasn’t mistaken, a slight bulge on her left side where I know she had a gun concealed. She tried to be pleasant, telling us to call her Cameron but there was something about her that put me off. Partly because this woman was here to spy on me but also because she gave me this look. It was like she hated me or something. I’m not sure what the hell was up her ass but the look really annoyed me. Cameron was in the front with the driver; Donna was in the back with me.
After leaving grandma’s, Donna quickly filled me in on what happened when she got back to her apartment. Apparently, she got home to an empty place. Not that Barbara left her or anything but apparently, Donna wasn’t the only one who got to go on an expedition. Barbara left a note, saying that she was invited by her professor to go with him to Africa. I’m not sure if Donna was ecstatic or not about the news. I think after the last few days, all she wanted to do was go home and cuddle in her girlfriend’s arms. Now she’s going to have to wait three or four months until Barbara returns. I felt kinda bad for her, wondering if she wanted to cuddle with me instead.
We arrived at the mall not too long after leaving the house. We pulled up in the parking lot near J. C. Penney’s. The driver stayed with the SUV, Cameron followed us inside. I used to go to Woodfield all the time; it is the place to hang for kids my age after all. Now that it was after Christmas it wasn’t as packed---being the end of January but there were still a lot of people milling about. Looking around brought back a bit of nostalgia. Connor and I used to spend countless hours here, running from toy store to toy store, hitting the arcade. Now most of the kids my age hung out in the food court.
“Miss Sandsmark” said Cameron as we stepped through the doors into the busy and bustling lower floor. “This is for you.”
She was holding a card, waiting for me to take it. I reluctantly did so. “What is this?”
“An incentive program set up by the DEO.”
I took the card; it was a credit card. My name---my new one---was on it. “What’s the DEO?”
“The Department of Extra-normal Operations is a new organization recently set up by the US government. Our job is to monitor those with Metahuman powers and make sure they’re not a threat to the general public. The DMA---the group Agent Faraday and I work for---is a small branch of the DEO.”
I nodded. I don’t think I wanted to know more. “What’s the credit line on this?”
The eyes bulged out of Donna’s head about as far as mine did. I’d never had that much money in my hand in my entire life. Who cares if it was in a little plastic card? It amazed me that the government would willingly hand me that much cash. Ok, it wasn’t really all that much but it was a lot more than Mom and I had to spend. Mom refused to take handouts even though grandma didn’t call them that. I did have a little trust fund set up in my name---well Charlie’s actually---but that was meant for college.
“That stipend is supposed to help you set up a new life, to get the things that you need to live comfortably in said new life” continued Cameron, sounding like some official who was given me a message that she had to memorize.
After giving me the card, Cameron didn’t say much more. Instead, she followed Donna and I as the older girl dragged me about like a little doll. She took me to one trendy store after another. I think we hit every teen fashion store there was. First, Abercrombie & Fitch, then Aéropostale and XXI Forever. There were a lot of others as well. In each shop, Donna loaded my arms with clothes and pushed me toward the changing rooms. I definitely felt like a doll. I’d dress, come out, model for her and then go back in to start the process all over. I was being run rampant and at first, I hated it. I say at first because after a few stores, I sorta got the hang of it. I’m not saying that I like clothes shopping now or anything but I like it a little more than I did before.
Our last stop before lunch was Victoria’s Secret. We were already bogged down with over a dozen bags already and let me tell you, I was kinda avoiding this stop. A couple of years ago---three actually---Connor and I got in trouble in Victoria’s Secret. We were young, puberty was setting in and our hormones were kinda on fire. The two of us didn’t really even go into the store, we were kinda lingering on the outside, we couldn’t help it. There was this girl in there---probably in her twenties---we kinda caught her walking out of the changing room, wearing nothing but her skivvies. Well suffice to say she screamed, the manager called security and I was grounded for two weeks. My Mom was furious; my grandma wasn’t too thrilled either. The two of them gave me a big lecture on women and respecting their privacy.
Connor and I never went anywhere near that place again.
Going in here now, looking at all the lingerie clad mannequins and things like that made me feel wrong somehow. As soon as the three of us walked inside---Cameron lingering between us too---a young woman came out of nowhere. It was possible she materialized from the racks of undies. I jumped, Donna smiled, Cameron showed no emotion.
“How can I help you ladies today?”
Donna spoke up before I could say anything. “My little cousin here has grown a bit since her last visit. She needs to be refitted for a new bra.”
I flushed red in embarrassment. The woman looked at me then looked up and up. Even with her in heels, I still had a good five or six inches on her. There was a flash of something across her face---jealousy maybe---then her fake smile was back.
“Of course, come right this way.”
She took my arm and led me off. I looked back at Donna for help but she had a big smile on her face. She shooed me on, I groaned. The woman was asking me all sorts of questions but all I could do was nod. She led me back to the changing rooms and told me to take off my shirt. I did so. She frowned at the sports bra, telling me to take that off as well. As soon as I did, I felt my pair flop free. It felt kinda good for a second until I realized how heavy they were without a bra. The woman didn’t say anything. Instead, she went about measuring. Her hands were cold and I didn’t like how comfortable she seemed to feel fondling my boobs like she was. In the end, she announced I was a C cup then went off to find me something age appropriate.
I looked at my naked chest in the mirror on the door. For the first time I really saw myself. I was gorgeous. I knew I was pretty but gorgeous, well that was something I never thought I’d use to describe myself. I turned this way and that. Then I grabbed some of my hair, pulling it up on the top of my head. I’d seen what I looked like with a ponytail but this morning I left with it down. I let go of my hair, deciding I liked it better down. As soon as I dropped my hair, the woman came back. She had a few bras with her. She made me try them on one at a time. In the end, I settled for the plainest in the bunch. I’m not sure, if she was happy or not because it was also the cheapest.
She took the tag, making me wear it under my clothes. She also took my sports bra, promising to burn it for me. I put my shirt back on and followed her to the register. She told me to grab a few more bras just like the one I had on. I found them as I walked by, grabbing six or seven. I paid for my purchases, my stomach rumbling. I looked at the clock on the wall, not believing it was already time for lunch.
“I’m starved,” I said as the three of us left the store, me one bag heavier.
“One more stop before we eat” said Donna, grabbing my arm and dragging me toward Claire’s.
In Claire’s she got my ears pierced. It was a lot less painful that I thought t was going to be. I had to wear these little studs in my ears for a while but after that, I could wear whatever I wanted. To celebrate this rite of passage, Donna bought me a pair of earrings. They were dangling red stars, about the size of quarters. They looked kinda ridiculous but according to Donna, they fit me. I reluctantly thanked her as she paid for everything. The earrings and the piercings were her treat. After that, her stomach growled too and we finally made our way to the food court.
There was only one place that I liked to eat at while I was here. It was Sbarro’s, they made the best pizza. I could get it the right way too, New York style. I know I’m a Chicagoan but I’m afraid I’m not much of a fan of deep dish. I like being able to pick up a slice and take a bite. We ordered a large cheese and pepperoni and took it to the court to eat. I was trying not to notice but there were a lot of people staring. I felt just like I did when I was at JFK and O’Hare. A lot of people probably thought I was a giant freak or worse, a model. As Charlie, I didn’t really draw all that much attention. I was the quiet Emo kid with the skater boy haircut and no social skills. I used to walk into a room and fade into the crowd. Now I was Cassie, six foot three and all leg. I was tall, beautiful and blonde. Which unfortunately for me made me very hard to miss?
We found a table away from the crowds. Donna sat on one side of me, Cameron across from me. She hadn’t said much which I think was a good thing. What was there for her to discuss with us anyway? She had to be at least ten years older than Donna and looked kinda out of place following the two of us around. I’m not sure if people thought she was my mother---she was blonde like me and we had the same eye color---or if she was an uncomfortable older person who happened to be hanging out with us. I have to say, she did try too hard to blend in. It was clear that the jeans and leather jacket were not her usual. For some reason I saw her better suited for a pants suit or something.
“Don’t look now but that gorgeous guy over there is staring at you?” said Donna as she slurped on her coke.
I was about to take a bit of my pizza when I froze. Gorgeous guy? My heart beat faster in my chest and my hand trembled a bit. Guys weren’t supposed to find me attractive. I wasn’t supposed to find them attractive either. So at first I tried to ignore what she said. But my beating heart and trembling hands got the better of it. I couldn’t help it; I wanted to see who she thought was gorgeous. Maybe it was someone I knew. I’m not sure what I thought about that but I suppose it was going to have to happen sooner or later. After all, I did grow up around here. I used to come here all the time so I was bound to run into one of my old classmates.
I feigned stretching and finally looked behind me.
My heart skipped a beat. Not in a good way either. Two tables behind us---sitting in a group of six or seven, was my best friend in the whole wide world---Connor Kent. I nearly choked when I saw him, snapping around quickly. My cheeks flushed red and my heart skipped a beat again. It had to be Connor; it just had to be him. I cursed silently, biting my lip. I hadn’t seen him in months, actually. He left about a month before me. I think I might have mentioned that he lived in the city not too far from mom and me. Well, after his Dad left for California and he moved in with his cuz, the two of us became constant companions in our misery. We had something in common, both our parents ignored us. Whereas his Dad was a big time reporter, his Mom was a jet-setting model, maybe you’ve heard of Lana Lang.
“He’s cute,” said Donna, giving me a nudge.
“What” I said, snapping out of my thoughts.
“The dark hair one with the muscles. The one who was staring” said Donna with a laugh. “I think you scared him off with that fake stretch. That was subtle by the way, very flirtatious of you.”
I groaned. “I’m not trying to flirt,” I snapped.
“Well you better quick because here he comes.”
I gulped. Son of a bitch. I only had a few seconds to get myself ready before I saw him. Donna was right, he walking over. He had this stride that I never noticed before. There was also this way about him. When he walked, his muscles bulged more. God he had a lot of those. How come I never noticed that before? And his arms, they were huge, like pistons. His chest was huge too; his black shirt was straining against it. My heart skipped another beat and my palms were all sweaty. I tried to look casual as he came over, running a hand through his cropped black hair. He smiled, trying to not look nervous. But I knew he was, after all, he was my best bud. He had this thing with girls. Even though he was a babe magnet, a total hottie to the whole female population, he was the shyest guy I knew. A lot of girls fell all over him and they thought he was aloof when he ignored them. In truth, he was kinda terrified of them. He didn’t know how to talk to girls. Before moving to Chicago when he was nine, he and his father lived on the family farm in Kansas. His Dad home-schooled him, with the help of his grandmother. He didn’t have much interaction with girls on the farm.
“Hi” he said, clearing his throat. “Umm, my friends and I were wondering if you’d like to come over and talk with us for a few minutes.”
I glanced casually over at his friends. I knew all of them and hated them. They were his football teammates. They hassled me all the time when Connor wasn’t around. All of them were jackasses. Looking at them now---sneering at me like a bunch of pigs---made my skin crawl. These guys were checking me out and I hated every minute of it.
“Cassie, the young man asked you a question” sad Donna, a little too playfully.
I snapped back to the real world. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
He smiled weakly, sticking out his hand. “I’m Connor Kent, I live in Chicago. But I still go to high school around here.”
I had to smile. All I asked was his name. Typical Connor.
“I’m Cassie,” I said, confidently taking his hand and shaking.
He had a strong grip but nothing compared to mine.
I looked at Donna and Cameron, hoping that one of them would interfere and tell him to get lost. But the two of them didn’t. Cameron looked indifferent; Donna looked like she was staring at fish in an aquarium. I was so going to get her back later for this. Looking at the two of them, I knew I was on my own. So that being the case, I took a deep breath and spoke.
“I’d really like too but we’re kinda in the middle of a big shopping spree.”
“No we’re not, Cass,” said Donna “I think we can spare a few minutes so you can get to know some of your new classmates.”
“Are you going to Gateway High?”
That was the name Connor and I called the local high school. A lot of the kids there were from the Gates. I think he thought I knew to what he was referring so I nodded.
Donna answered for me. “Cassie just moved her. Her parents are traveling so she’s living with her grandmother in Green Meadows.”
“Hey I used to live there. I have a friend who lives there or he did. He lives in the city now. Have you met Charlie Sandsmark?”
Donna’s eyes got big. I think she know knew why I was trying to avoid my good buddy. She got this evil look. I opened my mouth to say something but she beat me too it. “Cassie and Charlie are cousins.”
Damn bitch. I smiled sweetly at him then pretended to remember him. “Oh, you’re Charlie’s friend Connor.”
He nodded. “Yep. Is he back from Greece yet?”
I shook my head. “No…he’s ummm…”
Donna helped. “Going to live with his Dad for a while.”
“His Dad?” said Connor “I didn’t think he knew who that was?”
“They reconnected,” I said quickly. “He found his Dad in Greece and the two of them hit it off. Charlie and his mom have problems”
Connor nodded. “So Charlie wanted to try living with his Dad for a bit to see how that went.”
Connor looked a little upset. “He’s my best bud, I wish he would have called or emailed or something.”
“He was going to,” I quickly added “But I told him I’d hunt you down and tell you for him.”
Donna smiled. Clearly, she worked another connotation into my term “hunt you down.” I think Connor did too because he smiled real big. Damn me and my stupid mouth.
Then he quickly added. “Hey, I’m riding early tomorrow. Do you want me to swing by and pick you up? It’s the first day of classes after Winter Break, after all.”
I found myself numbly nodding. He smiled big.
“Cool, see ya then.”
“Yeah, see ya.”
Connor turned and walked back over to his table happily. There was some laughter, his football friends slapping him on the back. I looked over at Donna and glared. She smiled sheepishly at me. The rest of our meal I fumed at her and she pretended to be offended. I think she got great pleasure out of seeing me embarrassed like that. Cameron was indifferent again. I think that was the only thing that that woman knew how to be. I only think I heard her speak a few words and that was when we first got here. I understood she was only there to “babysit” me but at least she could have been a little more friendly about it. Her quietness was kinda freaky actually.
But thankfully, I didn’t have to put up with it much longer.
We finished lunch and started to hit some of the other stores. Donna was convinced I needed this and that. I went along with it because frankly I didn’t know what a girl my age needs. Two hours and several stores later, I think all three of us were pretty tired. We were on the bottom floor again, heading toward the entrance where we were parked. It was a good day, I had way more stuff then I wanted but I had fun.
That is until I heard the woman behind us scream. “Help me someone, he took my purse!”
I dropped my bags and instinctively snapped around. I saw the purse snatcher; he was running right for me. I’m not really sure what happened. One minute he was almost passing me and the next, my arm was held straight out.
I clothes lined him.
“Are you out of your damn mind?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know what else to say or do. I didn’t intentionally clothesline the guy. It was some kind of instinct. He was running toward me and my arm acted on its own. Ok, so that’s only partially true. I heard the woman scream, knew she was in trouble and needed help. There was a split second thought before I put out my arm and I felt pretty satisfied about it afterwards. Only for a few seconds afterwards. Then the severity of what I did had sunk in and I realized that a part of me acted without me knowing it. I think the same part that acted against the fake Andreas men on the island. It was the Amazonian hardwire again. It had to be. But the strangest part about it was that a part of me didn’t think it was so bad anymore.
“Don’t shrug” snapped Cameron, passing the small room. “This is serious.”
We were in the mall’s security office. Ok, technically it was a small room off to the side of the office but who’s trying to be technical. After I subdued the purse snatcher, mall security were quick to respond. There were three of them and I think they were a bit confused as to who the bad guy was. I’m not really sure what happened after that. All I know is that one of them drew his tazer and tried to stick me with it. I think I might have overreacted because the next thing I knew, he was flying through a nearby storefront. As you can imagine, things didn’t really sit well with security after that. I calmed down enough to allow them to cuff me and bring me here. The only thing that was keeping me here was Agent Chase. She identified herself as a federal agent and they brought us here instead of calling the police.
Now the three of us were waiting for the detective in charge to get here. I looked over at Donna; she was trying to keep herself occupied by filing her nails. I know, it’s a really girly thing to do, but that’s Donna for you. She tried not to make eye contact with me though. I think she was still a little embarrassed about how she acted before. I was still a little steamed about it too. She tried to apologize for it as we were leaving the food court but I wasn’t going to hear it. I still didn’t want to hear it. What she did was pretty low and I think she knew that. But I suppose in her defense---not that I was defending any of her actions---she was only trying to help. I just wasn’t ready for that stage yet. I’ve only been a girl for a few days and it’s bad enough that I’m a damn sexy one.
“Miss Sandsmark, are you even listening now?”
I groaned. I hadn’t been listening. For the last minute or so, Cameron had been lecturing me and I hadn’t been paying attention.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, ok. I didn’t mean to do it, it sorta happened.”
She groaned. “The clothes lining I understand. But that guard, what the hell were you thinking. They had to take him and the purse snatcher out of here in an ambulance.”
I had heard the sirens but I figured they were police cars. Was I upset that I hurt the guard, sure, but the purse snatcher not so much. He was a thief, he got what he deserved. I hated watching the news and seeing guys like him get off with a slap on the wrist. It wasn’t just him either, rapists tended to slip away too. Crimes against women should be punishable by death. Death? Whoa, where did that come from? I think rapists should be punished but not something that severe, castration maybe but not death. I groaned, shaking my head.
A knock on the door drew me from my thoughts. I’m not sure why anyone would be knocking. Then the door opened and a thirty something man walked in. He was tall, brown hair, a strong chin. He liked like one of those PI’s from those old black and white movies grandpa used to get me to watch. Not that I’m saying there was anything Bogart about this guy, he just had the look of him that’s all. It didn’t help matters that he was wearing a tan trench coat. I mean who wears a trench coat anymore.
He stopped in the doorway and looked at each of us in turn. His eyes lingered a bit on Donna and then over to Cameron. He didn’t even give me a passing glance. “Afternoon ladies, I hear you three have had a busy day.”
Cameron snapped right to it. “Agent Cameron Chase, DEO” She flipped him her badge, his eyes got real big. “And you are?”
He smiled. “Detective Mike Schorr, Robbery.”
He didn’t flip his badge. The two of them began to talk shop. I listened intently as Cameron did her job and kept me out of trouble. She tried to explain the situation as best as possible, telling him only what he needed to know and leaving out the rest. I’m not sure what the rest was considering she told him I was a Meta and that the guards got a little overzealous earlier. He seemed to listen though and only looked at me once or twice during their conversation. Me I tried to occupy my mind with trying to figure out a way to get Donna back for earlier. Because if she thinks she’s gonna go unpunished for the food court thing she was sorely mistaken.
My thoughts were interrupted when Detective Schorr finally spoke to me. “Miss Sandsmark?”
I nodded. “That’s the name I’m going by.”
Ok, smart ass doesn’t work for me well, especially in front of authority. Cameron glared at me. Schorr smiled; maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. “The state of Illinois and the city of Schaumburg wishes to extend its thanks in what you did today but asks that you keep your actions to yourself in the future.”
I nodded. I think I could live with that. Well, unless someone tried to taze me again that is.
“Ok, ladies” he said, looking a bit longer at Donna than I think even she would have liked. “You’re free to go. But in the future, I ask a little caution next time.” Then he turned to Cameron, nodding. “I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”
He then turned and left. I turned to Cameron, half expecting to see her blush. But she was emotionless as ever. “What was that all about? Did he ask you out?”
She smirked. “They’re having problems with a group of bandits, they’re at their wit’s end and the detective asked if I could lend him a hand while we’re in town.”
I nodded and frowned. I’m not sure why her not going on a date upset me so much but it did. Maybe it was the new girl in me or maybe it was because I had envisioned seeing her in something black and leggy. Ok, see there’s still some guy left in there. Ok, it’s a small part but it’s there still. So the Amazonian hardwire wasn’t in complete control of my brain, just the parts that seemed to control my reactions. So maybe if I could just learn to avoid dangerous situations, there would be no more police visits for me.
We didn’t stay around much after that. I think Woodfield security was more than happy to see the three of us go. Detective Schorr escorted us out the back way, though. Apparently, someone in the media heard about my “heroics” and was looking to interview. Cameron thought it would best if I didn’t plaster my face all over the television. Apparently, they didn’t want another Terra on their hands. I was glad for it, too. Someone once said with “great power comes great responsibility” and frankly, I wasn’t ready for any of that yet. I won’t deny that I thought being a superhero might be cool but I don’t think I was ready for the world just yet.
When we got outside, our SUV was waiting for us. Cameron had called the driver en route. A couple of the security guys carried my bags, putting them in the back. I thanked them but they gave me cold stares. I think the next time I wanted to go on a shopping trip I’d avoid Woodfield, at least for a while anyway. When Donna and I got into the car, Cameron gave us the rundown. Apparently, they had protocol in place for this kind of incident---not that it really was one. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone what I just did nor were we to speak to any media if they called. The DEO was starting to enact strict policies into things concerning Metas and the press. I guess the Jade incident a few months ago and then that Terra girl really shook the government up.
We drove back to The Gates in silence.
When we got back to grandma’s house---I mean my house---the driver stopped in front of the driveway. Apparently, while we were shopping, it had snowed and the snowplow had put most of it into the front of the drive. It was one of the things I hated most about winter and living in a cul-de-sac. The driver grumbled a bit about it and I smiled. He grumbled even more when Cameron ordered him out of the SUV to help the three of us bring my numerous bags into the house. My grandma was in the living room watching television. Her eyes widened as we carried the first few bags inside. They got even bigger when the others came, too.
There were twenty bags in all. Quite a haul and half of the crap I didn’t even want.
On the last trip, Cameron pulled me aside. “I’m going back into the city. But if you’re going out, I want you to make sure you’ll call.”
I nodded. “Is someone going to follow me to school tomorrow, too?”
I tried to make sure she heard the disdain in my voice. I was already sick and tired of my government babysitters. I felt like a criminal, having them following me around like this. I think she detected the disdain too because her response was dripping with it, too.
“You won’t have an official escort but someone will be there.”
“I’m not the bad guy you know.”
She nodded. “You might not be but there are some out there like you who think that power can make them above the law.”
Cameron nodded to my grandma then to Donna. I didn’t show her out. When she was gone, I walked over to the nearest chair and flopped into it. I sighed. I couldn’t believe how exhausting shopping could be. I looked over at Donna, who was practically asleep on the couch. I smiled, wondering if now was the perfect time for revenge. But then I changed my mind, knowing that she might be expecting it. So I decided to wait, which gave me time to plan. Then I looked over at the television, which my grandma had muted. It was the news and there was some fluff piece on there at the moment. I half paid attention, as the reporter silently droned on. I grabbed the remote, about to shut it off when the story changed and I saw an exterior of the mall. I bit my lip. Son of a bitch. I was about to shut it off when my grandma saw, too.
“Not so fast, missy” she said, snatching the remote and unmuting.
“Here we are at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg where I’m told that a nearly an hour ago a mugging took place. The victim, seventy five year old Dolores Barnes.”
The pretty brunette reporter smiled. “In most instances, this would have ended in heart ache for Mrs. Barnes if not for a brave Samaritan.”
The scene on the screen changed. The mall exterior and the reporter disappeared. In its place was a grainy overhead shot, it looked like it came from a surveillance camera. It showed a quick scene of the purse-snatcher running off with the old woman’s purse then someone---a banner blocked most of my head---clothes lining the bastard. I smiled. It happened so fast. When it happened in real life, it seemed like an instant but on video, it was so quick too. I couldn’t believe how fast I reacted. One minute the guy was running and the next he was on the floor---on his back---not moving. There was pandemonium after that. The guy tried to get up but someone---a familiar arm from off-screen---grabbed him.
The television switched back to the reporter. “Whoever this Samaritan was, mall security refused to comment. This reporter tried to get an interview but was unable to do so at the time…could this be another young hero in our midst. This is…”
My grandma clicked off the television and gave me a look. “That tall girl in the jeans looks awfully familiar.”
I slumped in the chair. “It was a reaction,” I said softly. “I didn’t even know I was doing it until it happened.”
Grandma frowned. Donna was silent. “And the man?”
“They took him to the hospital, but he’s all right.”
I smiled. I didn’t know if he was all right or not. I was just glad that the video didn’t show what happened afterwards. My grandma was a good person and she was pretty decent when it came to me doing bad things. After the incident in Victoria’s Secret, she listened to my story and then delivered the punishment she thought was fair. My mother pitched in too but everyone knew it wasn’t really her decision---she stopped making real decisions for me long ago.
My grandma’s eyes narrowed a bit but then softened. “If the man had been anything other than a criminal I would have been extremely upset with you.”
I was shocked. She said nothing more. I waited; I waited for the scolding or even the punishment. But there was nothing. “That’s it?”
She smiled. “Do you want me to punish you?” I shook my head. She laughed. “I think you’re old enough to realize when your actions have consequences. These new gifts of yours are going to take some getting used too, for everyone involved.”
She switched the subject after that. I wish she had kept it because next she wanted to know everything I bought. I begrudgingly started taking things out of the bags. I was glad that she didn’t make me model any of them for her. I was also glad that Donna’s exhaustion got the better of her and she was now slumbering peacefully on the couch. Neither of us disturbed her. It took me a while to show grandma all my new clothes. Then I had to show her the accessories, which included the earrings. It took about an hour or so. After that, she made me carry Donna up to one of the spare bedrooms. I laid her on the bed, putting the covers over her. I thought about taking a marker and drawing a mustache on her for payback but thought, it would be too cruel.
Instead, I went back downstairs, got my bags and took them up to my room. It took me another hour or so to put everything in the right place. I’m not sure how I knew, but somehow I did. It took me about an hour or so to do that too. By then I was so exhausted I flopped down on my bed. My stomach grumbled, which as everyone knows is the universal sign for being hungry. But I was too tired to get up and look for something to eat. It was strange because I shouldn’t have felt tired at all. If I was supposed to be some super Amazon chick, shouldn’t I have super endurance or something? I mean, I beat the hell out of all those guys in Greece without breaking a sweat. I could have gone hours. But ever since I got on the plane and came back home, I was getting tired just like I normally would.
I lay there a long time thinking about it. About twenty minutes later, I came to the conclusion that it was exercise. The reason I was so pumped in Greece was that I was so pumped. I jumped up from bed and ran over to my dresser. I pulled open the second drawer, knowing that’s where I put my stuff. Somehow I knew that I’d be running again, I’m not sure how. So one of the numerous shops I dragged Donna and Cameron into was a sporting goods one. I think it was the only place we went to that Cameron felt at home in. I got several weather appropriate outfits, all for running.
I pulled out my winter outfit now and stripped quickly. I put it on just as quickly, too. A thermal shirt---way too tight I might add---a pair of thermal pants, my new running shoes and muffs for my ears. It wasn’t exactly my favorite outfit in the bunch but the salesgirl said all of it was top of the line. It would keep the cold out and that’s all that mattered I suppose.
After I dressed, I ran downstairs. Grandma was in the kitchen, preparing dinner. It smelled like Italian. Grandpa and I used to use the kitchen door to run from. It was always our starting point. We used to set our watches there and then take off, going around the development first and then striking out from there. I bought a fancy watch in the sporting goods store too and an iPod. Donna insisted I have one of those, even though I had no music to put into it. I left the iPod in my bedroom---still in the package. I’d fiddle with that thing later.
“Going out?” my grandma asked, as she put spaghetti into a boiling pot.
I nodded. “Just for a little run. I need to keep my mind preoccupied and my body pumping.”
She smiled. “Are you going to call Agent Chase?”
I frowned. I hadn’t planned on it. I was only going a little way from home. My grandma smiled and nodded. She didn’t say anything more. I think she knew that I wasn’t one for babysitters. But she also knew the importance of making sure I was safe. So even though she smiled she frowned a bit too. I sighed and walked into the living room, finding the place where I stashed the card. I pulled it out and picked up the handset, giving Cameron a call. She picked up on the second ring, she sounded as exhausted as I felt a few seconds ago.
“Chase” she said, yawning a bit.
“I’m going for a run, do I need an escort?”
I think I heard her moan. “Didn’t you get enough exercise today?”
I laughed. “Apparently not. I think I need to keep active to stay active.”
She groaned again. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll make arrangements.”
She hung up before I could say bye. I walked over to the couch and waited, hating the fact that I had to wait for someone. It annoyed me that I had to have a babysitter every time I left the house. Did the government really think I was that much of a threat to them? Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. About twenty minutes later, my doorbell rang. When I opened it, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t the guy standing there. He was twenty-something, tall and blonde, dressed in the male equivalent of what I was wearing, except his shirt was red. He had chiseled good looks but there was this air of cockiness about him that was very off putting. Ok he was cute but it was going to go no further than that.
He smiled, holding out his hand. “I’m Jay; Cam said you were going running?”
I shook his hand. “Cassie” Then I added, “You better keep up.”
I didn’t wait for him. Instead, I brushed past him and went out the door. Ok, so we didn’t go out the kitchen door but I was bound and determined to show this guy up. I took off into a dead sprint, not wanting to hold back. Surprisingly it didn’t take long for him to catch up with me. He was fast; I guess I could give him that. He kept good pace with me, which was pretty impressive. I was always a pretty decent runner back when I was in shape. But after grandpa died, I kinda stopped caring about everything. So I stopped running. I think it upset my grandma a bit because I think she thought I was going to go out for the track team. I guess it was always in the back of my mind. But running was always something that grandpa and I liked to do together and without him there to cheer me on, I lost interest in it.
I took him for my usual run. Well, the usual one that grandpa and I used to take. Jay was surprisingly good. He ran alongside me, keeping good pace. But I think I was going a little slow for his benefit.
“Is this one of your meta powers?” he asked, pumping along.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I used to run before but I haven’t in a long time.” He nodded. “Seeing as we’re asking, what’s your story?”
He smiled. “I used to run in college. I was All-State you know, almost made the Olympic team.”
“I found the Marines” He sighed. “I was in Iraq up to about a month ago. Then the DEO came recruiting, looking for a few good men. We were given a choice, serve there or come home and fight a different war. I decided to sign up with them.” He laughed. “I once was called the Fastest Man Alive.”
I laughed. “Well come on then Mr. Flash, you can’t let a little girl like me beat you.”
He laughed and took the challenge as I ran ahead. Ok, now that I knew he wasn’t a lightweight, there was no way I was going to go easy on him. He took the bait. I put on the speed and he put on his to up the ante. He was pretty good, faster than I thought. But me, I was phenomenal. I knew I had been pretty fast before but now it was unheard of. The two of us were neck and neck for a while; he even managed to pass me when we passed out of The Gates and onto the road heading to the nearby park. But once we got into the open, away from the twists and turns of the development, I barreled ahead. He was still behind me, keeping a good pace but he couldn’t match me anymore stride for stride.
But he tried. We hit the park. He got a burst of speed and almost reached me but he had nothing left. For a few minutes, he was still a few feet behind me until I put on more speed and smoked him. I was thrilled. Never in my life have I ever run this fast. Hell, I just smoked an Olympic caliber runner. I took a glance back and saw him panting. Not only did I smoke him, I burned him. A big smile spread across my face and I laughed. It felt good to run like this. Better in fact now that I knew my theory was correct. I didn’t feel any change until we left the development but now I was certain. In order for me to not feel exhausted, I needed to perform strenuous activity. I don’t think that meant I was going to conk out in the middle of the day or anything but it meant that if I did a lot without exercise, then I was going to get tired doing it. I suppose that made sense. Amazons after all were the super women of their day.
I felt exhilarated with this new bit of information. I wanted to show off, too. I looked around and I saw the opportunity. Up ahead, there was a group of girls running. I knew them to be the track team from school. Well, the Indoor track team anyway. They were wearing the green and white of our school colors. Most likely they were out for an afternoon run, limbering up for the upcoming season. I took a deep breath and slowed down a bit, after all as a Meta I was probably faster than all of them combined. I smiled for the girls at the back of the pack, they were keeping good pace but they were falling behind. I ran up on them stealthily and wove between the two of them. I don’t think they ever saw me coming. I did the same with the rest of the girls, weaving in and out, passing each with very little difficulty. Then I aimed for the leader of the pack. I knew her by sight only. She was one of those girls that popped up on every athletic team she could get on. I didn’t know her name but it was hard to miss her with that long red hair of hers. She was clearly the dominant runner, making the other girls look frail in comparison.
I approached slowly first, not wanting to show off too much.
I’m not sure how long it took for her to realize I was there. But as soon as I got close enough, she put on the speed. She was good, built for distance and short bursts. She was well muscled too, I could see that through the lines in her clothes. Given a normal circumstance, this girl could probably out run me easy. Hell, she might have even been able to give Jay a run for his money. But I wasn’t a normal girl and this wasn’t a normal circumstance. Ok, so I was feeling cocky but for some reason I wanted to show off. So I tired of trailing behind and put on a little speed. I soon matched her stride for stride.
She tried to ignore me but it was kinda hard. She kept good pace with me, just like Jay. But even her endurance started to waver a bit. I smiled, not even breaking a sweat. I put forth the challenge, moving ahead of her. She took the bait. I heard an older woman call out to her. I looked around, seeing the girl’s coach standing on the sidelines. It took me a second to realize what we were running on. It was the outdoor track in the park. I didn’t notice before because it was covered with snow. These girls weren’t just running, I think I might have stumbled onto a practice. A real one with the coach and everything. I heard her blow her whistle angrily but we didn’t stop. Me I didn’t have to and this girl, well I think she liked the challenge.
Unfortunately, for her it wasn’t much of one.
I pulled ahead, letting out a laugh as I did so. She fell behind; I think I heard her curse. Then I heard her shout something. I turned around, putting an ear to my head. She put her hands on her hips and shouted louder.
“Do you have a name, Speedster?”
I laughed and shouted back. “Cassie.”
Then I took off. I think the whole track team watched me run after that. I suppose it was pretty impressive. I didn’t quit for a while, after which the team was long gone. I stopped at the bleachers, finding Jay waiting for me. He was drinking from a bottle of water and tossed me one. I caught it one handed and took off the top. I took a big long swig; the cool drink was extremely satisfying. I sat on the bench next to him, finally breaking a sweat.
Jay waited until I was done drinking a few more sips before he talked. “Showing off, are we?”
I shrugged. “I felt so alive out there.”
He laughed. “I know that feeling.”
I got off the bench and started limbering up; stretching my body in ways I didn’t even know I could. I was as flexible as hell now. It felt good too, invigorating like the run. Jay watched with a smile. I think he was surprised that I still had any energy at all. When I was done stretching, he reached over to his side and held up a business card. I looked at for a few seconds then recognized the figure head on top. It was our school mascot.
“The coach was livid with you at first. She berated the hell out of me for you interrupting their practice.”
“I didn’t realize that that was what they were doing.”
He smirked. “Sure you did” I shrugged. “Anyway, after she was done scolding me she watched you run. That girl you smoked back there was All State last year, she led the team to a conference win and you beat her time without breaking a sweat. After that the woman kept bugging me for your name and where you went to school.”
“You didn’t tell her did you?”
He laughed. “I didn’t have a choice, she wouldn’t leave me alone.” I groaned and he laughed some more. Then he handed me the card. “She says as soon as you get settled, she wants you to come and see her. She won’t take no for an answer, she absolutely must have you on the team this spring.”
I reluctantly took the card. I didn’t even read it as I stuck it in my shirt pocket. Jay shook his head then got up. He groaned a bit, I think from the strain. I smiled. He might have been in good shape but it looks like I really ran him through his paces. I started to stretch some more, getting prepared for our run back to the house. But he apparently had other plans. He pointed toward the parking lot where I saw a black SUV waiting.
“What, I tire you out?”
He laughed. “You might be a wonder girl but I’m not really the fastest man alive.”
I laughed and followed him to the vehicle. There was a driver inside, reading a paper. When he saw us coming, he quickly put it away. I climbed into the back and Jay got into front. We didn’t say anything on the way back. It didn’t take us long to get there. Grandma was waiting on the front porch, looking a bit cold but not worse for wear. When I got out, she came over and invited both men to dinner. Jay was so happy to be anywhere but running that he quickly accepted for the two of them. Me, I went inside and up to my room to change.
Donna met me as I was pulling my top over my head. “Tell me you didn’t actually run after all we did today?”
I laughed. “You bet your ass I did.”
I laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Donna lingered about while I put on jeans and a t-shirt. Then the two of us headed down to the kitchen. We entertained Jay and the driver all through dinner. I quickly told them about how I became what I was. The driver remained quiet through the whole thing but Jay asked a lot of questions. I think I interested the hell out of him. He and the driver stayed about an hour after dinner then left. I walked them to the door.
“Thanks for the run, Cas” he said, shaking my hand. “It’s the best I’ve had in a long time.”
“See it’s not so hard to be beaten by a girl.”
He laughed and the two of them left.
Me, I went back to the living room. Donna decided to spend the night instead of going back to the city. I think the vacant apartment back home had something to do with it. I sat next to her on the couch and she clung to me. Even though she played a little tough. I don’t think she liked to be alone. So I let her cuddle while the three of us watched television. I made my grandma promise to stay away from the news. The last thing I needed to see was “Wonder girl burning up the local track.” Not that I think anyone would make that newsworthy but you never know.
When it came to bedtime, I scooped Donna into my arms and carried her upstairs. I took her to the spare room again and tucked her in. Then I walked back to my room. I flopped onto the bed and looked toward the window. For a while, I just lay there, until I noticed I was being watched. At first, I thought it was a normal bird until it shifted slightly. I was surprised to see an owl. I sat up and walked over to the window, opening it slightly. The owl cocked its head, staring at me with its large eyes. The tree next to my window was too far away for it to come inside but it still creeped me out a bit.
I laughed. “You got anything to say, bird?”
It cocked its head, ruffled its feathers and turned away. I laughed and closed the window. Apparently not. I turned and stripped, grabbing the same shirt I wore the night before. I walked over to the bed and climbed under the covers.
I fell asleep rather quickly, certain that the owl was still there.
I woke to the buzzing of an alarm clock, which was strange because I didn’t even know I had one. I sat up, bleary eyed and looked around the room. There it was, sitting on the little table by the bed. It wasn’t there yesterday. My grandma must have put it there and I hadn’t noticed. I threw off the covers and slowly dragged myself out of bed. I shut the alarm off first, then blundered out of the room toward the bathroom, half awake. I’m not really a morning person, especially when that morning leads to school. I was particularly dreading it this morning, more so than any other morning ever.
Back in the city, I went to a school where no one knew me, so it was easy to blend in and disappear. But here, the school was a lot smaller and a lot more likely for me to screw up. I stumbled into the bathroom, pulling the shirt over my head as I peed. Then I turned on the water and got into the shower. I often go through a morning routine on a school day on autopilot. My body seems to know what do even if my brain hasn’t caught up with it yet. I’m just glad that I remembered to strip out of my clothes this time. One morning last year, I was so tired I actually got into the shower in my shirt and boxers.
I showered for about twenty minutes, my mind still not familiar with how tender my new body was. I did notice something new this morning though. My grandma got me my own shampoo and the soap was gone, in its place were a funky sponge thing and a bottle of body wash. I suppose, when in Rome. There was a towel hanging on the back of the bathroom door for me. I grabbed it and remembered to wrap it around my whole body instead of just my waist. Then I went about brushing my teeth and throwing water in my face.
After the bathroom I went back to my room, my hair dripping wet, my body chilled.
I got dressed without thinking too much about it. In my fun---it was a little bit---I got a lot of clothes, most of them jeans and t-shirts. I’m not quite ready to wear dresses or skirts. But that didn’t stop Donna into talking me into a few. The dresses were now in the back of my closet and the skirts buried somewhere in my bottom drawer. I figured if they were out of sight then they were out of mind, too. Just as long as Donna didn’t go snooping through my drawers and pull them out, I think I could get away with not wearing them. So in getting dressed---after patting myself dry---I went with jeans and a t-shirt. To please everyone I wore a gender neutral color shirt of green. The jeans were tighter than I would have liked and I couldn’t quick figure out why girls’ socks were so small but other than that, I think I did ok with my outfit choice.
Breakfast was waiting for me when I got downstairs.
My grandma was just putting a plate of pancakes on the table as I took my usual seat. Donna was nowhere to be found. “The pancakes didn’t wake her?” I asked as I stuck a fork into the stack and placed a few on my empty plate.
My grandma poured herself a cup of coffee as she sat down. “She has late classes, so she’s going to sleep in until noon or so.”
I nodded, grabbing the syrup. My grandma had the best syrup. It was homemade, a lady a few houses down made it in her basement. I’m not sure how one made syrup but I always thought it was pretty cool. I liked to drown my pancakes in it. Today I was particularly hungry, smothering the whole plate. My grandma watched with interest as I devoured my meal, even going so far as seconds. It was during my second helping that the doorbell rang. Not wanting to interrupt, my grandma got up to get it. I heard her talking in the foyer and then two sets of people came toward the kitchen.
“She’s right in here,” said my grandma as she led Connor into the room.
I looked up and silently cursed. I forgot I told him he could pick me up in the morning. He smiled at me, his eyes going a little big at the sight of my pancake mountain. My new body apparently needed a lot of energy but to him I probably looked like a pig. Not that he was one to complain. I’ve seen him eat and his appetite would put my new one to shame. Not that you could tell by looking at him. He was all muscle, not an ounce of fat on him. Today he was wearing his Junior Varsity jacket, blue jeans and a black t-shirt. Like me, he was a t-shirt and jeans guy too.
“Damn” he said, looking at the half devoured pile of pancakes. “You umm….”
“I’m hungry,” I said, cutting off whatever he was about to say.
He smiled. My heart skipped a beat and I inwardly groaned again. Tell me I’m not going to be another one of those girls who goes weak at the knees every time Connor Kent enters a room. There were a whole slew of them that followed him around everywhere he went, hanging on everything he did. I used to tease him about it all the time. He hated it. It was funny but he was usually really shy around girls but around me---especially yesterday in the mall---he seemed like his normal, everyday self. Ok so maybe he was a little more squeaky clean this morning but he was still the same Connor that I knew and loved.
“Connor, dear, would you like some breakfast?”
I could see him salivating. It was a little known fact---ok known to me anyway---that his cousin, Kara, was a lousy cook. Her idea of dinner was giving him a twenty and sending him to the nearest fast-food restaurant. So the prospect of having a home cooked meal probably looked pretty good to Connor. He didn’t even say yes. He sat down in the empty chair next to me. My grandmother put a plate of freshly cooked pancakes in front of him. Then he lathered on the butter and the syrup and dug in. I think he was trying to compete with me, which was fine by me. He devoured his stack about as quickly as I did my first. But unlike me, there’s no seconds for him. My grandma looked a little winded, whipping up so many pancakes so quickly.
I waited until he was finished before I spoke. ‘If I can pull you awake I think we better get going.”
He nodded, said his goodbye to grandma and the two of us went out the kitchen door. He led the way around the house and toward his car. Well, truck actually. It was a beat-up old red pickup; I think it belonged to his Dad at one point. He was so happy to get it a few months ago when he turned sixteen that I don‘t think it bothered him one bit that it was a piece of shit.
He ran around to the passenger side and opened the door for me. I smiled as I climbed in, making sure I did it right. I didn’t want to act too much like a guy around him. I was stupid to allow him to pick me up. All day yesterday after our encounter in the food court, I was afraid he’d realize who I was. As much as I wanted to tell him that I was Charlie, his best friend in the whole wide world, I was afraid of how he might react. After all, it’s not every day that a guy turns into a girl; a super powered one at that. I mean how would you react if some random girl told you that she was actually your best friend transformed. I know if our roles were reversed and Connor was the hot chick telling me that I’d think she was nuts.
He climbed into the cab and started her up. It took a few times but eventually we were on the road. He turned on the heat and smiled. It was about five minutes into the ride when he decided to speak.
“How are you and Charlie related again?”
“On his Mom’s side, our mothers are sisters.”
“You’re his Aunt Vanessa’s kid?”
I bit my lip. Connor knew all about Vanessa and how she abandoned our family. Damn, why couldn’t I have said on my father’s side? Then I would have had to explain why I didn’t have a Greek accent. “My Mom is a bit of a flake” I said, “she sorta dumped me on grandma and took off again.”
“Man that’s rough” he sighed “trust me I know how that feels.”
Then he went on to explain his parental situation. I had to react like this was the first time hearing it, which was kinda weird. But even weirder was how he opened up. Before when it was me and him---the former me I mean---he never ever told me how he felt about all of it. He loved his parents even though he thought both of them were asses for leaving him. I suppose I could see where that was a problem. But his Dad did offer to bring him to California but it was Connor who wanted to stay behind. Luckily, Kara was nice enough to let him crash with her. Don’t even get me started about his Mom.
After discussing his parents, he switched to more common topics. He seemed to want to know a lot about me. So when he asked, I made up the lies on the fly. They were pretty good too, I think. Apparently my father---my fake one---met my mother when she was backpacking in Switzerland. He was a British national and like Charlie, my “parents” had a one night stand that led to my inception nine months later. As far as I knew, it could be true. From what I knew about my Aunt Vanessa, she did sound like the promiscuous type. Who knows, maybe I really do have cousins out there somewhere. The rest of it was fluff. I traveled about with Mom until she got tired of me and dumped me in Chicago. I think he bought it because it made the two of us sound like kindred spirits even more than we already were. After that, we arrived at school.
“C’mon, I’ll take you to the office so you can register.”
I let him lead me around; after all, I was the new girl. I’m not sure when it happened but as soon as we walked into the school and started toward the office, our hands were clasped. For a moment, I felt like pulling away but there was a small part of me that kinda liked it. Yeah, I know. Walking down the hall though was like walking toward my execution. There were a lot of angry girls who were glaring at me and a lot of guys who were leering. It didn’t matter that I was holding Connor’s hand. I was fresh meat as far as the male population was concerned. So it didn’t surprise me one bit with all the wolf whistles and things like that. Those made my skin crawl though. As did all the lingering stares. I was a babe, I knew that but not everything with a penis needed to remind me of it.
Connor stayed with me until we got into the office. The woman at the front desk was Mrs. Grant; she was a kind old lady. I think she and grandma were in a knitting group or something. She smiled at me when she looked up.
“Hi Mrs. G” said Connor “this is Cassie Sandsmark, Charlie’s cousin. It’s her first day; she needs to register or whatever.”
Mrs. Grant’s smile got even bigger. “I didn’t know Julia had another grandchild. My aren’t you a pretty one” She looked me up and down. “And tall too.”
“Grandma didn’t really know what to think either. My Mom sorta dropped me off on her doorstep and vanished again.”
“You’re Vanessa’s daughter?” I nodded. “I never would have thought…”
“I get that a lot.”
She smiled then looked at Connor. “You can go to class now Mr. Kent; we’ll take it from here.”
Connor nodded. “I’ll see you later. Hey, maybe we can meet up after school.”
“I’d like that.”
Damn, no I wouldn’t. But he liked it. He smiled real big then tripped a little bit as he walked backwards out the door. Mrs. Grant laughed.
“I can imagine you get that a lot,” she asked with a laugh. “What with you being so beautiful.”
I smiled. “More than I’d like.”
She laughed. Then she picked up the phone and called the principal. I suppose that was standard operating procedure. She talked for a few minutes then told me that I was free to go in. I wasn’t sure what to think. My first day and I was already being sent to the principal. I smiled at Mrs. G and walked over to the glass door that led into the principal’s office. I knocked and then I heard someone say come in. When I opened the door, I was surprised to see that he wasn’t alone. Sitting in a chair in front of his desk---dressed like I thought she might usually be---was my resident babysitter, Cameron Chase. Her long blonde hair was pulled into a tight bun on top of her head and her civvies were replaced with a nicely pressed pantsuit. The principal, Mr. Weatherbee---“The Bee” as he was sometimes called---was standing behind his desk. He was a big guy, pushing sixty with a shiny bald head, round little glasses and a barrel chest. The Bee was a former Marine and he often didn’t let you forget it. He might come across as a bit stuffy and short tempered but a lot of us respected him.
I smiled. I opened my mouth to introduce myself but he beat me to the punch. “The new Mr. Sandsmark, I assume. Welcome back to Ri…”
I cut him off, directing my shock and surprise at Cameron. “What’s going on here?”
“As per new regulations, Mr. Weatherbee has been apprised of the situation and will look out for your best interests. He understands what’s at stake here and will make sure that your former identity will remain just that, your former.”
The Bee nodded. “You have nothing to fear from me, Miss Sandsmark.”
I nodded. I hated being snowballed like this though. Here I was expecting to have a clean slate and the government was one step ahead of me. I suppose it was all right if he knew but if the others. “Are you the only one, sir?”
“None of the faculty know if that’s what you mean.”
I sighed, thankful for that. It was bad enough that he knew. I couldn’t deal with it if all the teachers kept giving me strange looks, thinking I was some kind of freak.
The Bee asked me to take a seat. I took the empty chair next to Cameron. Then he told me how things were going to work. I was to be treated like everyone else, just a normal student. I was to act like it too, making sure that I didn’t do anything that might upset the delicate nature of his fine establishment. He made me agree that I wasn’t going to do anything crazy. After that, he gave me my new school schedule and went through all that pertained there. After that, he hit a buzzer and told Mrs. G to send her in. Whoever “her” was. I turned toward the door as it opened. The girl that walked in was vaguely familiar. She was short with shoulder length dirty blonde hair and a confident smile. She was wearing a cute little pencil skirt and a pressed blouse. Like a little administrator in the making.
“Cissie” he said, smiling. “This is Cassandra Sandsmark, Cassandra; this is Cissie King-Jones”
Cissie, I remembered her now. We were in the first, third and fifth grades together. She was kinda a know-it-all but other than that she was ok, I guess. I think she might have even lived near us but I’m not sure where. We used to be sorta friends. You know how that is sometimes. We hung out but not every day. It was kinda weird for boys and girls at that age. But once we hit Middle School it was like we didn’t even know each other. Which I suppose was fine by me because Cissie was a little weird. Not in a bad way, she was just really driven.
“Cassandra, Cissie here has volunteered to show you around the school, she’ll follow you to each of your classes and pick you up afterwards.”
I nodded. Then smiled at her. She smiled back weakly. It was clear that this was her job. She was the office helper that got stuck shuffling all the new kids around for the first few days of class. I’m sure it was all in an attempt to pad her college resume.
“Are we all done here, Mr. Weatherbee?” she asked in a sing-songy voice.
I looked at Cameron and she nodded. The Bee nodded too.
“You girls have fun now.”
I turned to Cissie, getting out of my chair. Her eyes widened when she looked up at me. Yeah, I think I was going to get that a lot. Hey, look at the tall freak. It was starting to get old already.
“Lead the way.”
I let Cissie lead me through the school, pretending to be the green newbie. In truth, I think I knew the place better than she did. Not only that but she seemed to be taking me on an abridged tour. She never took me anywhere near the Gym and spent a little too much time in the library. She did show me the cafeteria and the Auditorium so I guess it wasn’t all bad. Except that I already knew all this. It was weird having someone show me a school that I knew all about. It took us the whole of first period to do it, probably would have taken longer if she didn’t just show me the places she thought were important. She finally dropped me off outside my second period classroom.
“If you want, I can meet up with you and take you to third period too?”
There was something in her voice, something I felt sorry for. If I remembered correctly, she wasn’t exactly Miss Popular. A lot of girls avoided her because they thought she was kinda stuck up. I suppose there was a possibility of that, seeing as Cissie walked around like she was better than everyone. Only spending a little time with her, I knew that not to be the case. She was a little driven but there wasn’t anything stuck up about her.
I smiled. “That would be good; I only know one another person here and I got dirty looks walking down the hall with him earlier.”
I didn’t add that he made me feel all gooey inside, something I wasn’t ready to confront yet.
She smiled. “I’ll be back here in forty minutes.”
She left, seemingly gliding away. I smiled too, glad that I made her happy. I went into the classroom and my school day started. My first class---well second of the day technically---was Math and boy was it boring. My body might have changed but apparently, my aptitude for school hadn’t. Which kinda sucked but then again, Amazons were warriors not thinkers. So I sat and pretended to listen as the Math teacher droned on and on about some boring crap. The same thing happened in my next class, which was science. Science and Math are not my subjects. When I got to fourth period English, I found some familiar faces. Connor was sitting in the back with a couple of football buddies. His eyes lit up when he saw me; I smiled weakly. Cissie was there, too and her eyes lit up too.
Both she and Connor had longing in their eyes but I chose to sit next to her. The only free seat near Connor was in front of one of his friends and there was no way I was going to have an ass sitting behind me for forty minutes. English is one of my better subjects. It helped a lot that the teacher of this class was actually a lot younger than my first two. She had a bright smile and wore a top a size too small. Charlie would have loved it but apparently, I was all girl now. I kept grumbling, wondering why some woman would subject herself to this kind of thing. I wanted to stand up in the middle of the class and tell her off. Instead, I stewed in silence. I looked around the room though, wondering if any of the other girls were offended.
My eyes locked with a familiar face. It was the red head from the track team. I hated that I couldn’t remember her name. When she and I looked at each other, I saw the look on her face. She was just as annoyed as I was. I smiled and she smiled back. It was good to see that at least one other person thought it wrong that a teacher had to objectify herself like that to get attention.
I suffered through the forty minutes with Miss Boobs. When the bell rang, everyone rushed to the door. Fifth period it would seem was when a lot of us had lunch. I got up and got to the door about the same time as Cissie. She smiled. Then that smile disappeared when she looked behind me. I turned just in time to see a tall blonde jock come walking over. He was wearing a JV jacket too, so clearly he was one of the Neanderthals on the football team. Except he didn’t look as ripped as the others, especially Connor.
“Well if it isn’t Prissy Cissie,” he said with a laugh, knocking her books out of her hand.
Cissie looked like someone had killed her cat. She bent to pick them up.
“No” I said, speaking before I could think. “This jackass is going to pick them up for you.”
The color drained from Cissie’s face. “That’s all right…I can…”
The jackass looked at me. Then looked up at me. I was at least five or six inches taller. “Butt out of this, Shrimp.”
A play on words. He laughed. I bet he thought he was pretty smart.
I smirked. I hated piss ants like him. He still continued to laugh, the only one apparently doing it. Me, I got angry and that’s never a good thing. Before I knew what was happening, I grabbed his crotch and gave his nether regions a good squeeze and twist. I didn’t apply too much pressure but it was enough to bring the bastard to his knees, tears in his eyes.
“And you called me Shrimp.”
Everyone standing around us got a good laugh, including his buddies. I locked eyes with the red head and she had the biggest smile on her face. Cissie was just mortified but she was smiling, too. I looked over at Connor. He wasn’t smiling but he seemed amused.
“Ok, Eddie” he said, pushing his way through the crowd. “Apologize to the ladies, pick up Cissie’s books then go to the nurse, I think you might want to put ice on you know where.”
I let go of the jackass’s balls. The class laughed even louder. I heard the teacher’s voice behind us asking what was going on. Eddie grabbed Cissie’s books, handing them to her quickly. He apologized softly to both of us just as Miss Boobs appeared.
“No problems Miss Hill” said Eddie quickly “Cissie dropped her books and I was helping her pick them up.”
Miss Hill patted his cheek. “Such a good boy, Mr. Bloomberg.”
She turned to me and winked. Then she slipped past us and down the hall.
We broke up after that. I walked out into the hall with Cissie. It didn’t take long for Connor to catch up. When he appeared behind me, Cissie flushed. Not her, too. I picked up the pace; I wasn’t in the mood right now. Connor fell into step beside me, keeping pace. I was mildly impressed.
“So you want to eat lunch with me and the guys?”
I looked over my shoulder at the guys in question. There were five or six football jocks walking behind us, missing was poor Eddie Bloomberg. Probably off to the nurse’s office.
“Maybe some other time” I said, turning back to him. “I promised Cissie I’d sit with her today.”
Connor looked crestfallen. “Hey that’s cool. Maybe tomorrow.”
I nodded and he fell behind us, going back to the “guys”, I use the term lightly for them.
Cissie led the way to the cafeteria. I followed close behind, feeling the eyes on me. It didn’t take long for what happened after English to spread. There were of murmurs as I passed. A few of girls even congratulated me; apparently, Eddie was a big ass. He was one of the few guys I didn’t actually know. I think he was probably new. When we got into the cafeteria, some of the guys put their trays over their privates and gave me a wide berth. I had to laugh at that. It was kinda cool because I also got to cut in line, bringing Cissie with me. She liked that. I don’t think she got a lot of attention. I don’t think a lot of people stuck up for her either. I remember her being bullied a lot in elementary school and middle school and it pained me because I never did anything before to help her. Well, that all changes now. There was no way I was going to stand by anymore and let anyone harass her. It was time for a clean slate. Charlie Sandsmark the Bump on the Log was gone. I was Cassie, a new person with a new outlook on life. That meant no more blending into the background.
Cissie lead us over to an empty table near the back wall, I think it was her usual spot. Nobody really looked at her but everyone looked at me. I felt a little uncomfortable but I’d deal.
“You didn’t have to do that you know,” she said, opening her little carton of milk.
“Yes I did,” I said, opening mine. “No one should treat others like that. Eddie should know better.”
Cissie smiled. “You sure told him.”
“Solidarity in the Sisterhood” I said, holding up my milk and taking a huge slug.
Corny, yes but I was feeling empowered today.
“I’ll drink to that” she said and took a smaller sip of hers.
We talked a little bit after that. Cissie started telling me all about the student government of the school. Apparently, she was on the Student Council, serving as the sophomore class representative. It was kinda boring to me but she was really passionate about it. She went on and on about this and that. Apparently, the school was busy organizing the Valentine’s Day Dance; it was a big deal. It wasn’t a formal affair or anything but a lot of the girls got a little dressy. I remember it from last year---back when I still went here as a freshman. A lot of the girls threw themselves at Connor, trying to get him to ask them. Me, I could care less. In the end, the two of us went stag. I didn’t want to go but he dragged me to it. Suffice to say being a loner at the dance, it was pretty bad.
“I’m not much for dances,” I said, causing her to frown.
“But you won’t have any problems getting a date” she said, looking over my shoulder.
I turned and saw a bunch of guys staring. They snapped away quickly. I groaned. Why couldn’t they leave me alone for even a few minutes?
“I’m not really interested.”
“You’re not,” she asked in a low whisper. “You know?”
I shook my head. “Nothing like that” Yeah, I wish. It might solve a lot of problems. “I’m just going through some stuff. I kinda changed a lot over the past few weeks.”
She nodded. “I wish puberty was that good to me.”
We had a laugh. I started telling her about some of the globetrotting I’ve done. She told me she was jealous, always wanting to travel herself. I was halfway through my vacation to Greece---making up a lot of it---when the color drained from Cissie’s face. At first, I thought my story was bumming her out until I realized she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking behind me. I turned and saw a group of girls walking toward our table, carrying trays. I recognized them immediately. The red head was in the lead followed by several other girls from the Track team.
“Hey, Miss Speedster” she said, sitting at the table. The other girls sat in the empty chairs. “I loved what you did to Eddie.”
I nodded. “He had it coming.”
She laughed. “That he did” She looked over at Cissie. “He won’t bother you again; we’ll make sure of it.”
Cissie silently nodded.
Then she turned to me. “You ran off so quickly yesterday we didn’t get a chance to talk.” She held out her hand and I shook it. “I’m Artemis by the way.”
That was her name. Artemis Something or Other, I guess her last name wasn’t really important. She was Uber Jock though. I remember her from last year, winning all those sports awards and things like that. Her friends were real sporty too. I looked from her to them and back again. They all were pretty ripped, their tight muscles visible through their bare midriffs. These girls looked to be serious athletes and why not, most of them were probably tri-athletes. I caught a match or two of theirs last year---Connor liked to watch them so he dragged me a long. They did stuff like pole vaulting and javelin throwing. It was some seriously wicked stuff.
“I’m Cassie,” I said and she nodded.
“Trust me I know.”
She introduced her friends. They all had weird Greek names too. It kinda freaked me out a bit, like they gave themselves those names or something. Knowing them, they probably did. I smiled at them but they didn’t seem to be too interested. Clearly, they were only here because Artemis was. Which was fine by me.
“I’m sorry for barging in like this,” Artemis continued “but the Coach insisted. After you impressed the hell out of her yesterday, she wanted to make sure that we hunted you down.” She pulled a card out of her pocket and placed it on the table. “She wants to see you as soon as possible.”
I looked at the card, it was the same one that Jay had yesterday. I made no move to take it. I thought about it long and hard all last night. As cool as it would be to compete on the team, I just couldn’t. It would have been an unfair advantage, me being all-super and everything. I planned on calling the coach tonight and telling her that I was flattered but not interested. But apparently, the woman was really interested in me.
I smiled. “That’s great but I’m not the competitive type.”
Artemis nodded. “Can you think about it please? We could really use you” The others nodded, they looked pretty serious. “You’ve got mad skills, you smoked me and that’s hard to do.”
I nodded. “I can do all the thinking in the world but it’s still not going to change my mind.”
Artemis wasn’t willing to let it go apparently. “One practice. Come to one practice. Tomorrow after school, we meet in the park.”
She had a pleading look in her eyes. Her cronies did too. I sighed. “One practice.”
Her face lit up. She looked like she wanted to give me a hug but pulled back at the last second. She thanked me as she stood up, her teammates stood up at almost the same time. It was kinda freaky. Then as one, they left. I looked at Cissie and rolled my eyes. She smiled and then we had a laugh.
The rest of lunch, I had to explain yesterday to her. She seemed pretty impressed but she understood not wanting to be in the spotlight. After that, lunch went by pretty quickly. The rest of the school day did too. It turns out that Eddie was in my sixth period study hall. He sat with his legs apart, a bag of ice on his crotch. I smirked when I saw him and he gave me a dirty look. My last period of the day was Home Economics, which was probably the most sexist thing ever. The guys got to do technology and I was stuck in here with a bunch of other girls. One of Artemis’ teammates was in there with me. I think she called herself Akila---real name Melissa. She had short cropped blonde hair.
She kept giving me this look throughout class, which kinda freaked me out.
When the last bell rang and I made my way out to the parking lot, Connor was waiting.
“Your chariot awaits,” he said with a laugh.
I smirked. “Sorry about earlier but I think Cissie really needed a friend.”
He nodded. “Eddie is a dick.”
I laughed at that. He figured out why I was laughing and joined in.
When I got home, I filled my grandmother in on the day-to-day school life. I neglected to tell her about poor Eddie Bloomberg though. Donna was gone; she was at class. I wasn’t sure if we were going to see her or not. I did my homework then decided to go for a run. I gave Cameron another call and Jay came by to pick me up. I kept things nice and slow for him tonight. When we were done, grandma invited him and the driver---Daniel Johnson---to dinner again.
When I went to bed, the owl was back in its tree, ever my nighttime sentinel.
The alarm woke me again. I swung out angrily, hearing the crunch of fist on metal. Son of a bitch. I snapped my eyes and sat up, looking over at the remains of my clock. I cursed. I guess I forgot how strong I really was. I usually hit the alarm in the morning, allowing myself a few seconds more sleep. But that was back when I was Charlie without the superhuman strength. I groaned, hoping that it wasn’t anything expensive. I sat there for a few minutes, wondering what this glorious day was going to bring me. Yesterday wasn’t too bad I guess, but I could have done without all the attention. At least I made a potential friend in Cissie and possible friends with Artemis and her teammates.
I swung out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. I did my morning routine as quickly as possible. In the shower, I fingered the gold bracelets. They seemed bigger somehow, at least bigger than they were yesterday. It was hard to forget that they were there, seeing that they didn’t want to come off. I tried my hardest to ignore them but when you have water pouring all over your naked body it’s hard not to notice. They weren’t uncomfortable but they were a nuisance. I still hadn’t told anyone about them either. When I was telling my grandma the story about what happened, I left out the bracelets. I think she thought they were some fashion accessory.
If only that were true. After my shower and brushing my teeth, I went back to my room to change. Once again, it was a jeans and t-shirt day. But unlike yesterday, I had a small duffle to bring with me. Today was a Gym day---my first one as a girl. In the duffel was a sports bra, a workout t-shirt and a pair of yoga pants. Donna picked the ensemble out for me. She said when it came to Gym you wanted to be as comfortable as possible. I was ok with the shirt but I’m still not a big fan of the pants.
When I got downstairs, I smelled the welcoming aroma of bacon.
“Your alarm clock cut off kinda suddenly” said grandma as she plated some bacon and eggs for me.
I smiled sheepishly at her. “I’m not used to my own strength.”
She smiled. “I’ll put it on today’s list.”
“List?” I asked, crunching on a piece of bacon.
She smiled mysteriously. “You never mind that.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. What was she up to now? I tried to get her to confess her secret but trying to get a secret of her is like trying to steal from Fort Knox. So I dropped it and continued my breakfast. About ten minutes into it, Connor showed up again. I never set up any plans with him, but apparently, he got it into his head that he was my official driver. I suppose getting a ride to school every morning was better than the bus. Grandma fixed him some breakfast too and together the three of us ate in silence. I didn’t really know what to say to him. Even though he was my best friend in the whole wide world---well actually Charlie’s. I guess that’s where the problem lied. He was Charlie’s friend, as far as he was concerned I was a completely new person he met two days ago.
After breakfast, he drove me to school. It was a quiet ride.
I went to home room and my first period class, which happened to be World History. I love history but can anyone imagine having it at like nine in the morning. I think I was the only one in class who was even halfway awake. Looking around the room, the only one I knew was Eddie. He wasn’t wearing his JV jacket today but he didn’t look as grumpy. He looked around the room too and when our eyes met, he frowned. I guess he didn’t hold a grudge. I knew if some girl tried to castrate me with her hand I’d be pissed for weeks.
History was probably the longest forty minutes of my life. When the bell finally rang, I made my way to the door like the rest of them. Outside in the hall, Eddie caught up with me. I groaned; this was all I needed.
“Hey I’m sorry about being an ass yesterday,” he said, sounding sincere.
“I’m not the one you should be apologizing too,” I said as he followed me to Math class.
“I already apologized to Cissie too,” he said, sighing. “I’m not sure what came over me yesterday. I’m not that kinda guy. Ok, I’ll admit I’m kinda a dick but not that bad. I’ve been having these problems lately.”
I turned to face him. Like I said before, I was about five or six inches taller. So when he was standing there, his head was almost in direct line of sight with my chest. He stared there for a few seconds until I cleared my throat. He looked up at me apologetically. He was right, though. There was something off about him today. Yesterday he looked really healthy but today he was kinda pale. There were dark circles under his eyes and his lips were kinda chapped. There was something else too, something about his forehead. There were two red spots there; it looked like someone hit him twice in the head, on either side of it.
“Looking kinda pale,” I finally said and he nodded.
“I think I’m coming down with something,” he said and I nodded. “I just wanted to make sure that you and I were cool.”
I sighed. This guy wanted to be friends with the girl who embarrassed the hell out of him in front of everyone. “We’re good,” I finally said and he smiled. He followed close behind me for a bit, then disappeared into a classroom.
Math class was just as boring as ever. Heck, the rest of my classes were no different. In English class, Eddie wasn’t present. I asked Connor where he went and apparently, the nurse sent him home. I think the whole class was kinda glad to see him go and I think half of them thought it was my fault. In lunch, the track team sat one table over from Cissie and me. It would have been except for the fact that Artemis kept smiling at me. It was really creepy. I think she probably thought it was a done deal and all, me going to their practice. I only agreed to it so they’d leave me alone.
“Those are cute,” said Cissie as I raised a French fry to my mouth.
I looked around to see what she meant then I realized she meant my bracelets. I smiled. “I’d let you borrow them but they’re kinda attached.”
She smiled. “I couldn’t pull something like that off anyway.”
“Don’t sell yourself short Cissie. A little more confidence and you can be as pretty as me.”
She snorted. Me, I wanted to gag. Where in the hell did that come from? The worst part, I kinda half believed it. Cissie was a pretty girl, if only a little plain. She dressed a little too conservatively, too. What sixteen year old girl dresses like a librarian anyway? In fact, I didn’t even know it was possible to get sweater vests in a junior size.
Ok, so it turns out that Study Hall and Gym on rotating schedules. They call them A and B days. I have Study Hall on B days and Gym on A days. Yesterday was a B day believe it or not. Today was an A day. So after lunch I made my way to the Gym. Unfortunately, Cissie had Gym the period after so I didn’t even have her there to give me moral support. Ok, so she wouldn’t actually know she was giving me support but it would be there in spirit. Why am I so nervous you ask? Well only, a week ago, I was a sixteen year old boy and now I’m well, you know. So I was about to go where every sixteen year old boy wishes to go and it scared the hell out of me.
I was surprised when I finally took my first step into No Man’s Land and realized it wasn’t all that different than the boys. Ok so maybe it was a little cleaner and it smelled a lot better but the lockers were still in rows and there were still benches. Mind you, the lockers in here were an off shade of pink and the benches didn’t look so grubby. I found an empty locker next to a girl that was about an inch or two shorter than me. When she saw me, she sighed.
“Thank God” she said, pulling off her shirt. “Here I thought I was the only freak around here.”
I smiled, trying not to look at her bra. Not that it did much for me.
“They stare at you too?” she asked, referring to our shared giantness.
I smirked. “I think I’m starting to get used to it.”
She nodded. “You any good at basketball?”
I shrugged. Charlie sucked at basketball but who knew about me. As far as I knew, I could be a fricken basketball goddess now.
We talked a few more minutes about our height---she was actually six one. Then she introduced herself as Amy Allen. Besides matching my height, she looked like she could take me on in a fight. Not that I’m saying she could beat me but she looked like she could last a lot longer than most. The two of us dressed and talked. She was a sophomore like me but unlike me, she wasn’t afraid to show off her athletic talent. She was on the girls’ basketball team and just like Artemis; she tried to talk me into joining.
We joined the rest of the girls as the teacher---Miss Jones---ushered us all out of the locker room and into the Gym. I was wondering why she was asking me all these basketball questions and now I knew. Apparently, that’s what we were up to today. Miss Jones divided us evenly into teams, making sure that I was on one and Amy on the other. Ok I can honestly say that I didn’t play much basketball before; I didn’t have the height for it. Back when I was the old me, whenever we played in Gym I pretended to play. But in truth, I was totally outmatched by most of the guys there. When I still went to school here Connor used to watch out for me.
So I was a little rusty playing at first. But that didn’t last long.
To say that Amy and I dominated the court was an understatement. She was good, real good. Most of the girls who tried to stop her were nothing compared to her speed and grace. It was an art form watching her play. Me, well what can I say. When I got the ball in my hand the first time, it was like nothing I’d ever seen. I’m not sure what Hera did to me when she rewired me to be a super chick but whatever she did it made me a super jock or something. Never before did I have this much game. I owned it. I dribbled, I threw and jumped. Most of the girls on the court---Amy included---actually stopped to watch me play. I think about ten minutes into the game I realized there was no way that I could ever compete.
Way too much unfair advantage. In the end, my team barely won. Hey, I did say Amy was good and she is on the basketball team after all.
“Damn” said Amy, huffing and drenched in sweat as we all made our way back to the locker room. ‘They call me the Bomb but you’re something else.”
I pretended to huff too, to try to make me look normal. But I wasn’t winded at all. In fact, I was invigorated. It wasn’t the same as running but it was sure one hell of a workout.
“They call you the Bomb?” I asked as I sat on the bench.
She shrugged. “The Bombshell actually. Its kinda silly but it helps inflate the ego a bit.”
I smiled. There was something about her that I liked.
“You sure you don’t want to join the team?” she asked after a few minutes.
I laughed and shook my head.
“Get in line,” said another girl a few lockers down. “I hear the Track Team is already after her.”
There was a lot of murmuring after that. I went from being the new girl to being the star. I’m not sure how I liked that. I tried to ignore it but it was kinda hard when all they seemed to want to talk about was how cool I was.
The rest of the day kinda went fast. It turns out that Amy was in my next two classes and after talking only a little bit, the two of us hit it off. She was kinda like me, the tall girl that everyone stared at. I think she was really happy to have me around. Apparently, it’s not easy being the tallest girl in the school.
“Guys don’t like tall girls” she told me which I knew was only partially true. It’s not that we---I mean they---don’t like tall girls, it’s just girls that are taller than them.
“So are you going to let them recruit you?” She asked as she met up with me outside my ninth period class.
She kinda surprised me. I wasn’t expecting her to be there. I looked around, hoping maybe Cissie would be there too. I saw her coming my way but she stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Amy. That girl seriously needed to learn how to socialize. She backed up a step but I waved her over. Amy looked to who I was waving at and laughed, waving Cissie over, too.
I introduced them. When that was over, Amy hit me with the question again. “Well, are you?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think so. Like I said before, I’m not really into competitive sports. They asked me to come see them practice and that’s all I’m going to do.”
Amy nodded. “Well you’re not going alone. I know Artemis aka Alexandria Pope. She’s ruthless when it comes to getting what she wants. If that girl wants you on her team, she’ll stop at nothing to get it.”
“I’m coming, too” piped Cissie, surprising both of us. She flushed red. “I wanna see you run.”
Amy and I laughed. Then Amy put her arm around Cissie’s shoulder. It amazed me how fast that girl could make friends. The two of them followed me to my locker where I dropped off my books then grabbed my bags. We passed Connor in the hall. I told him I’d run home today, which really surprised him. That is until I told him that the Track Team wanted me to go to one of their practices. Initially it was supposed to be at the park but seeing as it was only going to be a small one, I got a note last period telling me they moved it to the outdoor track outside the school. When the three of us got there, the team was doing warm-ups.
The Coach turned when she saw my approach. She was blonde, wearing a blue tracksuit. She was holding a clipboard in one hand, standing next to an orange Gator-aid dispenser. Except instead of the typical sports drink logo on the side this one said NECTAR in big bold blue letters. Must be something new. She shouted orders, telling the team to hit the track then started over to me. She glanced at both Amy and Cissie, paying Cissie little attention. Her eyes lingered a bit on Amy though. I think she liked the prospect.
“Are you girls here to tryout, too?”
“Yeah, right” said Amy, crossing her arms in front of her. Cissie shook her head.
After that, the Coach seemed to ignore them. She turned to me. “I’m Coach Milton; you’re Cassandra Sandsmark, right?” I nodded. “Is that your stuff in the duffel?” I nodded again, “why don’t you go change and show me what you’ve got.”
“I’m not here to try out.”
Coach Milton turned and looked back at the track. Her eyes lingered a bit on Artemis before turning back toward me. “Then you’re just here to waste my time?”
I opened my mouth but Amy beat me to the punch. “Not on your life, lady. My girl could whip all your puny little things. Give her a few minutes and she’ll show you.”
I opened my mouth to argue but the coach smiled. Amy grabbed my arm and started walking me back toward the school. She didn’t say anything. I kept my mouth shut until we were almost at the side door. “What the hell was that?”
Amy looked back at the field. “That woman pisses me off. She thinks she’s hot shit. I just couldn’t stand there and let her think that her girls are better than everyone else.”
I groaned. “She was baiting you. She already knows how fast I can run.” Amy looked at Cissie who nodded. “I can already out run all of them, backwards in fact. She knew I wasn’t here to try out she just wanted to see if she could goad me into doing it.”
Amy smiled sheepishly. “Whoops.”
I nodded and sighed. “I guess I don’t have a choice now.”
I didn’t wait for them to try to talk me out of it. I turned and walked into the school. I half walked, half ran for the locker room. Thankfully, there was no one there to slow me down. I changed quickly, groaning at the predicament I was now in. I promised myself and my grandmother that I wouldn’t try to go out for any sports. We both agreed it would be an unfair advantage even if I tried my hardest not to do my best. I had another problem with Agent Chase. Even though I didn’t see her goons anywhere, I knew they were about. Agent Faraday strictly told me to keep a low profile and that everything would be ok. That’s the reason Chase was here to begin with. Now here I was, dressing in my gym clothes, ready to try out for the damn track team. Yeah, that’s a low profile.
I looked at myself for a few seconds in the tall mirror on the wall. I took a few deep breaths. I think I can do this, I think I can make myself normal. I looked at the bracelets on my arms and frowned. So maybe not normal, but as close to it as I could get. I gave myself the once over and then left the locker room. I jogged back outside. The air was frigid but it didn’t seem to bother me as much as I thought it was going to. It was like the first time I went running with Jay. The air had been really cold then too, but it wasn’t as cold to me as it was to him. I think it was another perk of my new Amazon whatever.
Amy and Cissie were sitting on the bleachers; I could see their breath from where I stood. I waved as I ran out into the field. The Coach blew her whistle, calling the other girls back. I could see their breath too but the cold didn’t seem to bother them much either. Well, if it did they weren’t showing it like my two shivering friends. A few of the girls stopped to get drinks while the rest sorta stood around and waited. Artemis locked eyes with me and smiled. I smiled weakly back. This was all her fault to begin with. She roped me into this and now I was going to have to perform like some circus animal.
“Girls” said the Coach “this is Cassandra. She’s the little miracle who whipped the pants off you at Sunday’s practice in the park.” There were a lot of murmurs. “She’s agreed to come out and run with you again, this time under more of an official capacity. I know tryouts were last year but given the circumstances, I think she has a lot to bring to this team.”
“She has my vote,” said Artemis
“Mine too” said a couple of the other girls, Akila being one of them.
“Ok” said the Coach smiling. “Why don’t you show us what you can really do out there.”
I didn’t have much time to stretch, not that I really needed too. The Coach put the whistle to her mouth and blew. The other girls were off pretty fast. Me, I lagged a bit at first because she surprised me. But I think that was the whole point. Artemis took the lead quickly; Akila was close behind. Me, I paced myself at first. I think everyone knows the story of Secretariat, about the racehorse that won the Triple Crown back in the seventies. He was notorious for lagging behind in most of the races he ran and then bursting ahead at the end. Not that I’m comparing myself to a racehorse but I think the same tactic would work well for me.
I let the other girls lead for a bit then I slowly wove my way through the pack. A lot of the girls I passed were already huffing and puffing. Me, I was doing good. On the first lap, I was sitting a nice fourth but as soon as we started the second, I put on a little speed. I passed the girl in front of me and then came up on Akila. She was fast but she put everything into it too early. I could see that she was already starting to flounder a bit. I came up beside her and smiled. She didn’t notice me at first until I passed her. I heard her curse then laugh.
Now it was just Artemis and me. Again.
“I was wondering when you were going to stop following around back there” she laughed as I ran up next to her.
“I was enjoying the breeze,” I said with a laugh of my own.
“Can you make this as painless as possible I have a reputation you know.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
I let her lead a bit up until we finished the second lap and then I made my move. I think she knew it was coming because she slowed down a bit. It didn’t take me much to pass her and when I did, I could hear the cheering from my fans. I waved to Cissie and Amy as I passed. The Coach nodded, smiling. I’m not sure how many laps these girls usually ran so I just decided to go until I heard the whistle. On the last leg of my third lap, I saw some of the girls moving to the sidelines. Me, I kept running. Going onto my fourth, Artemis was the last one on the track with me. She was a lap behind though. When we got to the Coach, she left too.
Now I had the track all to myself. I probably could have gone a couple more laps but I didn’t want to show off. So I feigned exhaustion after my fifth and came in. I pretended to pant and huff. A lot of the girls cheered when I finally stopped. Artemis and Akila came over, laughing.
“You’re a damn machine, you know that?”
I nodded. “Does not compute.”
“Impressive, Sandsmark” said the Coach, walking over with her stopwatch. “That was the school and the course record.”
Great. Way to not show off.
Amy and Cissie came down from the bleachers. Amy was shaking her head. “If you do not accept a slot on this team I’m going to beat you senseless.”
Cissie nodded. “You said you were fast but…”
The coach cut her off. “What do you say, Sandsmark?”
I looked at all the faces around me. All of them were waiting, holding their breath. I bit my lip. Son of a bitch. Cameron and Grandma were going to kill me. “Ok, I’ll do it.”
There were a lot of cheers. After that, we went to the locker rooms. Amy agreed to give Cissie a ride home and the two of them left. I told them I’d see them tomorrow at school. There were a lot of congratulations in the locker room. Inside, Artemis introduced me to the rest of the team. It turns out that only she and her core group of five friends actually went by Greek names. I asked her about it but she said she could do me one better.
“I don’t understand.”
Artemis smiled. “I have someplace I want to show you.”
Artemis took me in her car. She wouldn’t tell me where we were going but it didn’t take long for me to realize that wherever it was, it wasn’t in Schaumburg. We left the city and headed toward Chicago. No matter how many questions I asked, she wouldn’t tell me anything. Akila and another girl, Persephone---real name Megan---were in the backseat. The other three girls---the ones with the Greek names---were in another car. Persephone was a quiet girl with longer blonde hair than mine, which she usually wore in a really long braid. If not for the length of her hair, she and Akila could have been twins.
“Do you two know where we’re going?” I asked, looking at them in the rearview mirror.
Akila smiled. “Relax, it’s no place bad. In fact, I think you’ll love it.”
I sighed. “If this is some kind of new girl hazing let me tell you right now I don’t take to surprises very well.”
“It’s not a hazing.”
I tried to get more out of them but they were pretty tightlipped after that. So instead, I sat there and stewed, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself in to.
After about an hour of driving, we finally got into the city. We went for Lakeshore Drive, heading along at an even pace. I only vaguely knew this area. It was a little on the higher end for me, Mom and I lived on the other side of the city. I thought maybe we were finally coming on our destination until Artemis turned off the street, stopping the car for a second. I was confusing because looking out the window I saw an empty warehouse. Clearly, this wasn’t where she wanted to take me.
“Ok this next part you won’t like” she said with a smile.
“We have to blindfold you,” said Akila as her arms reached around me, putting a bandanna in front of my eyes.
She tied it tight before I could complain. I didn’t like the idea of going into some new place blind but these were teenage girls, it wasn’t like they were leading me to my doom. So I sat back and sighed. I heard the engine start again and then the car started moving. We drove for another ten minutes or so, making a few turns left and then a couple rights. Finally, the car stopped and Artemis shut off the engine. I waited to see if this was another step in the journey but then I heard the back doors open.
My door was opened as I took my seatbelt off. A hand grabbed mine and someone helped me out.
“Where are we going?”
I was led away from the car, up onto a curb and toward somewhere. I heard the hiss of two glass doors being opened and then heard Persephone’s heeled boots clacking on a hardwood floor. Whoever was holding my arm led me a few more feet and then I was stopped.
“Are you ready?”
I nodded and the bandanna was taken off my eyes. I was surprised at my surroundings. I thought maybe I was being brought to a nightclub or even one of those trendy coffee shops but not here. It had a very Grecian feel to it, complete with fake columns and bronze statues. In the center of the room was a giant bronze statue of a Minotaur. The thing had to be ten feet tall. It looked out of place, especially when I looked at the sign above the reception desk. It was a spa, a health spa. I read the sign and groaned it was one of those bizarre names that meant nothing: Bana-Mighdall. What the hell did that even mean?
“You took me to a spa?” I asked as a couple attendants in fake togas walked by.
I groaned at the tackiness of the place. I looked down at the floor and what I thought to be wood was actually marble. It amazed me that these girls thought this place was cool. It was like someone tried to make a poor replica of something from Ancient Greece. It was ridiculous.
“It’s not only a spa” said Artemis as she took my hand and lead me to the front desk. “It’s a fitness center too.”
“We come here all the time,” said Akila.
The girl at the desk---she couldn’t have been much older than us---smiled at the three girls.
She was raven haired and perky but just as ripped as my new teammates. “Artemis, Akila, Persephone. Who’s the new girl?”
“This is Cassie,” said Akila with another smile. “Cassie this is Charis.”
Great another Greek name. What the hell was up with that?
“We were wondering if Antiope was in. We kinda wanted to see if she’d allow Cassie to join our little group?”
Charis stood up and looked me up and down. She stood an inch or two shorter than me. She stared at me for quite a while then smiled. “I think that shouldn’t be a problem.”
She sat back down and picked up her phone, dialing a number.
“Group?” I asked “what group?”
“We’re Amazons,” said Persephone as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
I groaned. You’ve gotta be kidding me.
To Be Continued