Spring, and a Young Squirrel’s Fancy by Diane Castle
Friday, March 16, 2007
Anna Parsons wasn’t looking forward to aikido class, like she usually did. No, she didn’t want to go today. Not that she would ever tell sensei Ito or sensei Tolman that, because she thought they were the most amazing martial arts people ever, not counting Chaka, who was too cool to believe, and she was a little mad at Chaka too, not that she was ever going to say so.
But she’d heard from Lucille, who heard it from Winnie, who would know, that Chou wasn’t eating with Team Kimba in the cafeteria much anymore because Team Kimba kicked her off their team and Phase kicked her out of their room and had that slutty new girl who looked even more vampire-y than Erzebet for a roommate! She couldn’t believe it! And she thought Phase was nice. But everybody was saying it: Phase kicked Chou out of Team Kimba like for nothing!
And yesterday, sensei Ito told her she was going to be working with Phase today in class. She didn’t want to. She really, really didn’t want to do training with Phase when she was mad at her, not that she could hurt Phase at all, but she just wanted to say something angry at her and stomp out of the room and hurt her feelings like she hurt Chou’s feelings, because Anna knew she’d just be crushed if the Underdogs threw her out and Ellen made her go get another room. And how did Phase even do the room thing? Because there was no way Mrs. Nelson would just let someone in Dickinson kick someone else out of their room, no matter how much they were fighting, and Ree said their housemother made Diamondback and Psydoe room together even after they just about wrecked the room a couple times, which Anna didn’t get, because she thought Diamondback and Psydoe were both really nice, but Ree said Psydoe had a fear of snakes or something and kept having nightmares about Diamondback and kept using her PK power in her sleep or something. Well, it sounded bad. But if you couldn’t get your roommate changed for something like that, how on earth did Phase get Chou moved out of her room? Did she buy out the whole dorm? And could you even do that? Because she could totally believe Solange would do something like that and buy out Dickinson and make everyone else move off ‘her’ floor and just have some maids living there, and maybe Flicker and Fade too.
And she’d thought all the Kimbas were nice. Even Tennyo, when lots of people said really mean things about her. She’d really liked going to Boston with them, even with the thing in the restaurant and the police and all that. And she’d been pretty sad that Adrienne’s fear aura thingy came back when they flew home, because it would’ve been really nice if it just stayed away forever and Adrienne and her sister could have friends who weren’t scared to be next to ‘em and stuff. But how could they just kick Chou out of their team? Okay, Chou was spending lots more time with Molly and Dorjee, and everyone knew why, because they were all dating together even if Anna wasn’t sure how that would really work because Molly wouldn’t really talk about the stuff that made her really embarrassed, but Lindsay said sometimes Chou went out on a ‘date’ with Molly and sometimes Chou went out on a ‘date’ with Dorjee, and sometimes she thought all three of them hung out together in Chou’s new room in Poe, even if Chou had a new roommate now. So Anna was totally confused about that, and lately she just felt kind of weird thinking about it.
Okay, the last couple days, she’d been feeling sort of weird, period. Just edgy and, well, like just before her period started, but it wasn’t the right time for her period to start. She’d already had her period. And it was kind of weird, but she’d been a little irregular at the start of fall term, but then she started having her period at pretty much the same time as most of the floor, which Mrs. Nelson said was perfectly normal, and sometimes one girl had strong enough magical or psychic powers that the whole dorm would just kind of sync up with her on their period, and then everyone in the whole dorm would be really crabby on the same day, which sounded bad.
Maybe she was coming down with something.
She hoped it was a human disease, and not something freaky like squirrel flu or chipmunk chicken pox or rabies or something. Or maybe she was just upset about the thing with Chou. She couldn’t believe Phase would do a thing like that! It was so mean. And Phase was nice. But really determined. And she wouldn’t stop for anything if she thought she needed to do something. And kind of pushy about some stuff. And… Oh jeez, maybe Phase would do something like that. She wondered if she could talk to Phase about the deal with Chou, and maybe it would turn out it was all some ginormous misunderstanding, and they’d all have a big laugh about it.
Or not. She was really worried Phase would tell her to shut up and she wasn’t her friend anymore. Or maybe Phase would be really mean and say she didn’t like Chou anymore and she really did kick her out of the Kimbas. But wouldn’t all the rest of the Kimbas say ‘no way’ and make her and Chou work it out and be friends again?
But now that the Crystal Hall had like three whole huge levels, Chou wasn’t even eating on the same floor as Team Kimba was anymore. At least, she didn’t think so, because the Kimbas had staked out a pretty fancy table up near the top level. She wasn’t all that sure. Anna was still eating with the other Underdogs at one of the ground floor tables. But since all the really important groups were upstairs, like the Alphas and the Capes and the Golden Kids and the New Olympians and like that were all sitting at big tables on the very top floor, there was a ton more room on the main floor. Even with the food area getting a lot bigger, and the spaces for the stairs and the elevator and the escalators. And the even more awesome waterfall and ponds in the middle of the room. Gary and Alan had picked out a spot back away from the food tables and near one of the plantings, where they had a really nice view of the outside, and also a great view of the waterfall, which bounced and ran down from the very top now and had like a dozen little ponds and things at different levels that it spilled into or ran through. So it was really pretty on the ground floor, and there was plenty of room, and everyone mean went upstairs and left them alone, except the bullies at that one table way over by Captain Bravo. And Pucelle. Who never talked to Anna no matter what. But those bullies weren’t bothering any Underdogs anymore, at least not in the cafeteria, because if they even wanted to they had to go past Team Bravo and a couple other tables like that, and past a table or two of Thornies, and nobody wanted to mess with Slab or Jimmy T. Or Olympia, because she was totally whacko. Or Phlegm, because… ewww. And then there were the guys who still had to eat over on the far side of the hall under those big vent fans, like Killstench. And Nate had to go sit over there some of the time still, because that boy just would not leave that stupid chili alone, and every time they served it he ate like three bowls of it. Alan said he ate four bowls of chili last Wednesday, and tried to sneak a to-go box full of chili back to his room. She felt bad for Nate’s roommate, even if they did have a special vent fan in their room over his bed. And Gary said Peeper was still mad at Nate about the combat final thing, so he kept giving Nate ‘presents’ of canned chili and soda and bean salad and stuff like that so Nate would have to sit by himself at meals, and they had to keep him out of the Underdog hangout, and stuff like that. But Nate just kept eating that stuff, and it wasn’t like anyone was making him do it, were they?
Oh Jeez, she really hoped his Avatar spirit wasn’t making him eat that stuff every time and he just couldn’t stop doing it, because that would be so not fair.
She hurried down the hallways. She was finished with third period and wanted to see Jerry before lunch, because she was sure he wouldn’t get to lunch, because ever since he made that business deal with Phase he was working extra hours on their hair products, and Phase had helped Jerry get his own private lab just down the hall from the main chem Workshop lab, where Jerry was doing dozens and dozens of tests of his secret hair-lengthening potion, on tons and tons of different kinds of real hair, because Phase had gotten Jerry like a zillion different real-hair wigs to do testing on. Oh yeah, and Jerry didn’t like it when she slipped up and called it a potion out loud.
So she knocked on the door and waited until he came out in his goggles and Whateley labcoat, which looked a little funny over jeans and sneakers and a t-shirt, but as far as she could tell that was what real scientists wore in the lab, and not the suits and ties and stuff like in the movies. Which made sense, pretty much, since some of the stuff Jerry worked with could really stain your clothes or burn a hole in your stuff or worse, so wearing a fancy suit could be a really bad idea, and that was why she only wore her bad sneakers to chem lab, because they were already wrecked, with the hole she’d scratched in the tip with her toenails.
Okay, all the holes and stuff she’d scratched in both shoes with her toenails. Even though she filed ‘em every week! And put a couple coats of nail polish on ‘em twice a week, just in case.
She was really glad she was taking Chem I and Chem I lab this term, instead of Bio II with lab, because she’d heard from Shuttle that they were dissecting a dead cat. Eww! Okay, squirrels didn’t like cats a whole lot, but she’d had a cat of her own that she’d loved for years and years, and she’d been heartbroken when it died, and she couldn’t imagine having to cut up a cat no matter how dead it was. She was just glad they weren’t cutting up squirrels. That would be awful. But Shuttle said they were going to be cutting up a baby pig later in the term, so she was really, really glad she dropped biology, even if she did get a good grade in there.
But chemistry was kind of hard. There were tons of things to memorize, and the labs had tricky things to do. She was really glad Jerry liked that she was taking chemistry now, and he really liked taking her into his lab and showing her how to do stuff the right way, like the titration thing she had to do for her last lab that she was really struggling with until Jerry showed her a couple little tricks and then it went just great. And she had to memorize a ton of stuff about the periodic table and the elements that Jerry just knew off the top of his head, but on the other hand he told her tons of stuff about why memorizing all these things was really important, especially for later in Chem II and organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry and stuff like that, even if she thought she probably wouldn’t take fancy stuff like that until college, if she could even get into a decent college and find a scholarship so she could pay for it and stuff.
Jerry took off his goggles and smiled at her, which made her heart do a funny little flutter, because he really looked cute with his hair messed up from taking off his goggles and he was still in his labcoat and she never got around to asking if he needed her to bring him some lunch, because she just stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. Hard.
And it was so wonderful. Her brain just sort of shut off, because she was kissing Jerry, and he was so warm and smelled so good and she was pulling him closer and she wanted him even closer than he was, and…
A big fat jerky voice laughed, “Hey! Way ta go Haz! Right in the hall, too!”
It was Erlenmeyer, looking at them. At her. And that was when she realized what she was doing.
She had grabbed Jerry so hard her nails had cut through his labcoat, and she had her fingers sunk in ten little holes right through the front of his coat. She was wrapped around him, with her legs around his body so her thighs were pressing on his hips and she was pressing her crotch against his and she could feel his… you know… pressing against her, and she felt so hot she wondered why her pants hadn’t caught on fire. And Erlenmeyer was seeing her do it.
She had never been more humiliated in her entire life.
She pulled her hands free, ripping his labcoat even worse, and she ran. She didn’t think about where she was going, she just ran.
She ran down the hall, and around the corner, and she couldn’t stop to wait for the elevator, so she ran up the stairs, and she just took ‘em on all fours like she was galloping up ‘em, and she just ran until she ran out of stairs, and then she ran out and down a hall, and she found a window to open and she jumped out the window into a tree that wasn’t too far away, even if she was jumping out a third story window. She scrambled back down to the ground and ran.
She was crying too hard to see where she was going, but somehow she managed not to knock anybody down, or run into one of the school bricks and break her nose, or anything like that. She ran until she tore through the lobby, up to her floor, and down the hall to the big bathroom. She scrambled out of her clothes and threw herself into a shower. She yanked on the faucet and turned on the cold water.
She needed really cold water. Biting cold water. Her body felt like she was burning up, and her breasts were all achy and puffy, and her… umm… was… you know. She was so ashamed she just wanted to die. Oh gosh, what was Jerry gonna think of her? What was everyone gonna think of her? Because Erlenmeyer was a big loudmouthed jerk and she knew he’d tell everybody about her just about molesting Jerry right there in the hallway where anybody could’ve walked up, and it just had to be Erlenmeyer instead of someone who’d be nice about it.
And if Erlenmeyer hadn’t walked up to them right then… Oh my God.
She curled up in a ball on the floor of the shower and let the freezing water pound down on her while she cried.
It was Mrs. Nelson, probably wondering what crazy wacko thing she was doing now. She didn’t say anything. She couldn’t bear to see Mrs. Nelson’s face when she found out what Anna had been doing, because she really liked Mrs. Nelson and she really wanted Mrs. Nelson to like her back, and this was just too awful, and she wished she could fly through the walls to get away like Phase could, even if she was mad at Phase.
“Anna? Are you all right?”
“S-s-s-s-sure.” But she was so cold and she was shivering so hard she couldn’t even talk normal, so she just sounded like a big spazz or something.
Mrs. Nelson reached in and turned off the water, and then knelt down outside the shower. “Oh honey, you need to come out and dry off and warm up. Where’s your towel?”
“I… I don’t have one. I just ran in here because… because…” And then she burst into tears again because she was so mad at herself and so humiliated and she was terrified she was turning into a giant slut who was gonna be grabbing guys and kissing them and doing perverted sex things right in front of everybody, and then everyone would hate her, and then she’d get all pregnant and get thrown out of school or worse, and…
“Why is this happening to me!”
“Anna, look at me, please. Can you tell me what’s wrong? Can you talk about it? Hold on one second…”
And then Mrs. Nelson got up and walked out of the bathroom and came right back with a great big towel like a beach towel only fluffier, and she wrapped Anna up in the towel and helped her out of the shower and let her sit on the floor. She even scooted Anna over to the sinks, where there was one hair dryer mounted on the wall, even if it was crummy and it was always too hot to use to style your hair, but if you left your hair dryer back in your room or yours broke or something, it was a lot better than nothing, or trying to borrow a hair dryer from girls like Flicker who wouldn’t loan you their hair dryer if you were trapped inside a big ice cube.
Anna sat there and sort of dried herself off while she tried to stop sobbing. But she felt so bad, and her emotions had been all ragged for days now, and she was really cold. That hair dryer on her hair and her back and her feet felt really good.
“Th-thanks,” she managed to say, even if her jaws were shaking so much she could hardly talk, and she just knew if anyone saw her they’d make mean ‘stuttering Winnie’ jokes.
Mrs. Nelson dried her hair some more and gave her a chance to calm down some, and waited a bit before she asked again, “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
And Anna wanted to tell her, but she started crying again, so it all came out in sobs and gasps and stammers, with snot running down her face and tears everywhere. She told her about kissing Jerry and getting so carried away and wanting to… you know… have sex with him right there in the hallway. And how he had a big boner and she was pressing against it like some kind of skanky slut, and she had no idea what would’ve happened if someone hadn’t walked in on ‘em.
Mrs. Nelson gently said, “Jerry seems like a very nice boy. I’m sure he would have stopped you. Even if it was only because you were in a hallway. And don’t worry about that erection of his. He’s a teenaged boy. He gets them a lot more than you really want to know. Trust me on this.”
Anna sobbed, “But I was just all skanky and slutty and I was like climbing all over him and grinding against him, and I’m not that kind of girl! I was all afraid of this, but then I found out squirrel mating season is like around Christmas or else in the summer, so I thought I would be okay this spring except for the big eating thing, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”
Mrs. Nelson gently stroked her hair, like her mom used to do back before Anna turned into a mutant and her mom didn’t want to touch her anymore, and she said, “Oh honey, I know this is a big shock for you, but it’ll be okay. Really. You’re not the first Avatar to have trouble with their spirit, especially about things like this. Oh dear, why didn’t they get you into the Avatar classes? Or at least Powers Theory?”
Anna whimpered, “Mrs. Hawkins said she’d get me into Powers Theory and lab next fall, and then one of the Avatar courses next spring, and I figured that was okay because I was doing fine with my squirrel spirit and it’s been really nice, and I hadn’t had any troubles, like they said Peccary did back in the fall, and I really wanted to take chemistry but it has a lab with it and I couldn’t work both into my class schedule, and I really wanted to understand when Jerry talks about his work, and oh my gosh, he’ll never talk to me again! This is the worst thing ever!”
Mrs. Nelson stroked her hair some more and said, “No, it’ll be okay. Really. Boys don’t get angry with you for getting carried away when you kiss them. They get angry with you when you get carried away and start kissing other boys.”
Anna burst into tears again. “Like I’ll probably be doing as soon as I go outside again, because I was so burning up I was like gonna explode, and I wanted him so bad I dunno what I would’ve done if we’d been in his lab, and what if I can’t be alone with him anymore, and what if I start jumping on every guy I see, and he’s never gonna want to be my boyfriend again!”
Mrs. Nelson pulled out her cell phone while Anna bawled into the big towel and tried not to get snot all over it because it wasn’t hers and whoever it belonged to was gonna be mad that she was using it and getting it all icky and stuff.
Mrs. Nelson dialed a number and no one answered. She dialed another number. “Oh, hello Pythia, it’s me… I have a small problem in the freshman girls’ bathroom. Could you come down and help? ... It’s Aquerna… No, no one hurt her, she’s just really upset about something she did that isn’t her fault. Could you walk her over to see one of the counselors right now? ... Thanks a million.”
Then she put her phone away and said, “Come on, Anna. Let’s get you dressed again. Where’s your coat and your purse and your backpack?”
Anna looked around. She could see her pants and shoes and socks and shirt and lingerie on the floor, but nothing else was there. “Oh no, they’re gone! I must’ve lost ‘em while I was running home, and I don’t even know where I ran, and my mom’s gonna kill me if I lose that coat, and my purse is in my backpack, and oh my gosh my notes and my homework are in my backpack, and I can’t pay for a new textbook, and what am I gonna do? I’m so stupid!” She started weeping again, even if she didn’t want to.
Mrs. Nelson just said, “Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll turn up. I’ll check with lost and found, and we’ll deal with it. Okay?”
Anna nodded, because she knew that was what Mrs. Nelson wanted her to do, but she just knew it wasn’t gonna be okay, and if she lost her class notes and her lab report and her homework, she was gonna be doomed, and she’d flunk everything, which wouldn’t even matter because she’d probably be all pregnant by then and everyone would hate her and she’d get kicked out of school and she wouldn’t have anywhere to go and she’d have to be a supervillain to get enough money to feed her baby and she just knew she’d be really bad at it and get arrested and shot and stuff. She burst into tears just thinking about it.
She was still tucking in her shirt and blowing her nose for about the fifty millionth time when Pythia came in. She really wanted Pythia to like her, and now she was gonna think Anna was all skanky and icky like Cytherea who Pythia didn’t really get along with, and Anna just knew Pythia would never like her again, and it was all she could do not to burst into tears again.
Pythia asked, “What happened? Are you sure no one hurt her?”
Mrs. Nelson said, “No, Anna’s just… having a problem with her powers.”
“That time of the month?”
Mrs. Nelson said, “No. That time of the year.”
“Ohhhhhhh.” Pythia put her arm around Anna and said, “Come on, let’s go over to Admin and get you in to see a counselor right away, and we’ll make sure you get all the help you need. Okay?”
Anna nodded but said, “But I got classes to go to this afternoon, and I can’t miss class, because I’m not all super-smart like some people, and I need to hear the teachers and take notes and study and stuff. And maybe I didn’t wanna go to aikido because of Phase but I would’ve gone anyways and it would’ve been fun. Mostly. Except for the part about working with Phase.”
“Phase? The Goodkind girl? I thought she was one of your big pals.”
Anna said, “She’s being mean to Chou! I mean Bladedancer. Molly’s… you know. Her girlfriend. She kicked her out of Team Kimba, and kicked her out of her room, and they don’t even eat with Chou anymore I don’t think, and Chou’s really nice!”
Pythia asked, “Do you have a coat? Or should we just go?”
“I lost my coat when I was running back here, I guess, and my mom’s gonna be really mad, if she ever lets me go home again, an’ I don’t even know what I’m gonna do this summer, because Ree let me go home with her for Christmas and her family’s really really nice, but there’s no way I can just do that again for a while summer! And I lost my backpack too and it has my purse in it, and I’m in so much trouble!”
Pythia gave her a little one-armed hug and said, “We’ll work things out, okay? Let’s just get over to Admin and see who can talk to you.” They started walking.
“Is talking gonna help?”
“Talking always helps.”
Anna nodded. “Yeah, but it won’t make me be not all skanky and horny and climbing all over Jerry in the hallway. And what if he never wants to see me again?” She nearly burst into tears again.
Pythia said, “I have yet to meet a teenaged boy who didn’t want to see a girl again after she climbed all over him. There may be a few guys who just want to get the nookie and then move on to another girl, but that didn’t happen, right? And Jerry doesn’t sound like that kind of boy. Right?”
Anna said, “Jerry’s nice! And I didn’t! And… and I might’ve if Erlenmeyer hadn’t come out and made fun of me. And… oh my gosh, what if Jerry thinks I’m gonna put out on our next date? Oh, this is bad.”
Pythia said, “Let me tell you a little secret. Every girl, no matter what she’s done in the past, has the right to say ‘no’ and mean it.”
“But- but what if I can’t say no the next time? I mean, I started it. And I pretty much climbed right on him and did the grind-y thing and made him get a boner and everything!”
Pythia sighed. “Anna, until you get this little problem under control, maybe you shouldn’t go out with Jerry. I mean, you shouldn’t go out with anybody until you get this under control. And we need to get you on some birth control, just in case.”
“My mom’ll kill me if I start taking birth control pills! She said only bad girls do that. And I can’t afford ‘em anyways. I’m a full scholarship student.”
Pythia said, “Look, a lot of kids here are on full or nearly-full scholarships. It’s an expensive school. Not many of us are a Goodkind or a Walcutt. My folks are pretty well off, but I’m on a 90% scholarship. This school is more expensive than the most expensive college you’ve ever heard of. And you don’t have to be a total skank to be on the pill. I’m on the pill. It helps me with my period, because my roomie’s a nature mage. If I don’t take it, my body gets completely synched to her period in a matter of days, and that means I have a horrible time every time we come back from a vacation. Imagine having two periods in two weeks.”
Pythia said, “Anyone like you, who might have trouble controlling their urges some of the year because of their powers, needs to be on the pill, or taking the shot, or something similar. This is why all the girl Avatars like you, and all the animal girls like Miyet and Psydoe, are supposed to take Powers Theory and Lab their first term, so they can learn about this and know how to handle it. Who’s your advisor?”
Pythia groaned. “I should’ve known. That old bat. Look, after we get this little problem taken care of, I want you to bring me your current class schedule, along with your fall and winter schedules, and I’ll help you pick out classes for next year. You really need Avatars I, and probably Avatars II. Plus Powers Theory.”
Anna worried, “But what about English? And math? And science? And social studies? Don’t I need to get all those classes in first?”
Pythia said, “You need the powers stuff more. Okay, you don’t need things like Costume Shop or Survival, given how you did in your combat final.”
Anna said, “I like aikido. Sensei Ito is really cool. I wanna keep taking martial arts until I’m really good at it.”
Pythia said, “Okay, but next fall you could take Powers Theory with Lab, English and math, and also martial arts.”
Anna said, “What about Chem II? I mean, if Jerry doesn’t hate me…”
Pythia asked, “Are you really taking chemistry because of who you’re dating? That’s a bad idea.”
She admitted, “Umm, I’m really taking chem because I couldn’t imagine taking bio again and having to dissect a cat and a baby pig.”
Pythia nodded. “Right. Animal spirit. Hawkins should’ve thought of that before she stuck you in bio to begin with. Just so you know, there is a special section of bio with no lab, and there’s no dissections to do.”
Anna said, “Well, so far I’m liking chem, even if there’s a ton of stuff to learn, and some of the experiments in the syllabus look really cool.”
Pythia said, “And your boyfriend’s a chem deviser.”
“If he’s still my boyfriend after all this mess,” Anna moaned.
Pythia rubbed her shoulder. “You’re making way too much out of this. What did your boyfriend in junior high do when you made a mistake?”
Anna sort of shrank down into her shirt. “I never had a boyfriend before. Before I got my squirrel spirit, I was the fat ugly blob in your grade no one wanted to talk to. And I had really ugly glasses, and I wasn’t smart, or athletic, or anything. And my dad worked at the junkyard so everybody hated me.”
Pythia sighed, “Oh dear. Look Anna, you didn’t do anything wrong. This isn’t your fault, and if your boyfriend can’t get that through his thick head, he’s a really sucky boyfriend, and you can do a lot better.”
“Me? No way. I’m just an Underdog. I’m not an Exemplar or anything else cool.”
Pythia said, “Okay, stop right there.” Anna stood still. “No, I didn’t mean stop walking. I meant stop dissing yourself. You do know nearly a third of the girls on this campus would cut their own leg off, if it meant they could look even as good as you or me, right?”
Anna looked at Pythia and said, “You look great! And you’re way smarter than me, and everyone in the whole dorm looks up to you.”
Pythia shook her head a little. “After we get your schedule for next year worked out, you’re going to start going to a counselor regularly for your self-esteem issues.”
“But I don’t wanna waste their time, they have problem kids to handle, and sick kids, and kids who are crazy, and kids who really need help.”
Pythia said, “And they have lots of kids who just need to talk to someone. You have low self-esteem.” Anna started to say something, but Pythia held up a hand to stop her. “Lots of teenaged girls have low self-esteem. Even idiot educators who think ‘just say no’ is a decent way of handling drug problems know this much. Okay, they have no idea how to fix it, but they know it’s there. And you need to talk to someone about it. I know from what the girls say that you can’t talk to anyone in your family about it.” Anna just shrugged unhappily. “And I know you hang out with the Underdogs, which is pretty much the Low Self-Esteem Team, so you won’t be getting adequate help there either. I want you to see a counselor about this.”
Anna made herself say, “Okay. I guess so.” But she mostly said it because she knew that was what Pythia wanted her to say, and she didn’t want Pythia to hate her.
Pythia walked her into the Admin building and over to the counselor offices. She asked, “Hi Valerie, is there anyone free really soon? Aquerna here has a time-critical problem with her powers.”
Anna muttered, “Really, we can come back later if no one has time.”
“No we can’t,” insisted Pythia. “If no one’s available now, we’ll sit and wait for someone.”
“But what about your classes?” Anna fretted.
“My classes are fine right where they are,” Pythia said. She looked at the expression on Anna’s face and said, “Look, most of my classes are morning classes, so I can do this kind of job for the dorm. I don’t have a fourth period class, and I can skip a day in my fifth period class. I can wait.”
Anna winced at that, because she did have a fourth period class, and sensei Ito wouldn’t like her missing it. Even if she had an excuse. And she wouldn’t like missing it. Even if she was still mad at Phase for being mean to Chou. Anna was sure it wasn’t because of the whole Chou-and-Molly-and-Dorjee thing, or Ayla wouldn’t have invited them all along on that trip. And it wasn’t like Ayla was all ‘normal girl’ herself, since she was having a thing with Vox and had a wiener instead of normal girl plumbing. Probably. At least, that was what everyone said.
So they sat there and waited for like fifteen minutes, which Anna didn’t mind, but she really figured Pythia had somewhere more important to be than sitting around babysitting her when she was having a meltdown, only it was more like a meltdown than she wanted to think about, because parts of her had definitely been melting down while she was kissing Jerry, and just thinking about that was making her really hot and bothered. And embarrassed.
And then a boy she didn’t know, even if she was pretty sure he was one of the Grunge guys, came out carrying a skateboard and said, “Thanks, doc. See ya next week.”
And an old guy stepped to the door and said, “See you then. Take care.”
The nice receptionist said, “Doctor Bellows, I know it’s your lunch break, but Pythia just brought Aquerna in to see someone. She says it’s time-critical, and about Aquerna’s powers.”
The doctor winced a little bit, and Anna worried she was maybe ruining his lunch hour or something important like that. He said, “Hello, Pythia. Maybe you can bring Aquerna in and tell me your version of things while I eat a quick bite, and then you can leave so I can chat with Aquerna. How’s that sound?”
Anna winced because that meant she really was ruining his lunch hour. Pythia gave her a ‘don’t do that’ kind of look, and led her in.
The room was nice. There was a friendly desk, instead of the big ‘sit way over there’ kind of desk Mrs. Hawkins had. The chairs looked comfy, and there was even a couch over by the wall.
Uh-oh. Was she going crazy? She thought only crazy people had to lie on the couch and let the psychiatrist analyze what was wrong with them.
Doctor Bellow put out his hand and asked, “Can we shake hands? Let me warn you that I have a low-level psychic ability that lets me see something of the stressful moments of your life. Some people are bothered by that.”
Anna turned beet red and jerked her hand back as fast as she could. She practically jumped behind Pythia. “I… umm… Well, I… Idon’twantyoutoseehowawfulIam!”
He smiled gently and said, “That’s okay. And I promise I won’t judge you or yell at you.”
Pythia said, “It’s her power. She’s an Avatar, and she didn’t get signed up for Powers Theory or Avatars I, so this hit her as a huge surprise, and she’s not dealing.”
Doctor Bellows spun around in his chair and typed on his computer for a few seconds. Then he looked at the screen. “Aquerna. Anna Parsons. Avatar-1. Squirrel spirit. Hmm. Good grades, good behavior, good scholarship… Very good on scholarship.” Anna blushed. “Security reports: victim, victim, rescuer, rescuer, rescuer, victim, rescuer, rescuer…”
He turned back to face them. “And which power problem did she find?” He looked at Anna, whose face was burning so red it felt like she was on fire. “And no one prepared her for this? We are falling down on the job. Who was it?”
Anna squeaked, “My boyfriend. Hazmat. Jerry. I sort of… climbed all over him in the hallway outside his lab and Erlenmeyer found us but I don’t know what I would’ve done if he hadn’t walked up and been a total meanie about it and made fun of us because I kind of… went into heat. I guess. I mean, I looked it up, and checked with my little friends, and this isn’t when squirrels do the mating thing! I thought I’d be doing the eating too much thing, so I’ve been watching my weight, but I didn’t think… Umm…”
Doctor Bellows listened, and finally said, “Has anyone talked to you about how animal spirits adapt to their Avatar hosts?”
He closed his eyes and sighed. “We have to handle this better in future. You’re the third student this year with one of the classic problems and no one preparing them. I’m really sorry about this.”
“It’s not your fault! You’re being really nice!” Anna said.
He smiled a little. “Thank you for saying so, but this is something we need to get a better grasp on.” He turned back to his monitor. “Let me see… Ahh. Mrs. Hawkins.” He made a note in his notebook. He said, “Now let me explain something. When an animal goes into season-”
“Season?” shrieked Anna. “I’m gonna be like this all season long? Spring doesn’t end for months! Am I gonna have to wear a chastity belt or something for like three months?”
“I’m sorry, it’s a technical term. It doesn’t mean you’ll be like this for a season like spring or summer.” Anna sighed in relief. “But your animal goes into… heat at a particular time to ensure live birth at a particular time of the year, when it’s most beneficial for the species. For squirrels, I suppose it would be mid-winter from what you said, so baby squirrels can be born in spring and have all year to mature before their first winter. For the Avatar of the squirrel spirit, it has to be a little different. Your ‘little friends’ as you say probably bear babies after what, about two months?”
Anna had to stop and think. The stuff she read said… umm… 33 days up to 60 days. And 60 days was… two months. “Yeah. One month for some of the small girls, and up to two months for some of the big girls.”
He nodded. “But humans need nine months. And when I say nine months, I mean that when we talk about bearing a child to full-term, we talk about 37 to 42 weeks. So figure a little over nine months. Your squirrel spirit is trying to adapt its natural cycle to a human’s body, and so you would have a baby at a time of the year that would work for a human’s life. This is actually a good sign. It means you and your spirit are in tune, and it is trying to help you. If you were going into heat against your will and the spirit was fighting you, you would be much more likely to do this precisely when the squirrels were doing it.”
“So, all that stuff I looked up? It’s useless?” She nearly broke down and cried again.
He frowned a little. “I wouldn’t say that, Aquerna. I would say that you need to take that Avatar course and learn how it applies, so that in future all that information will be useful.”
“And I’m gonna be… going into heat every spring? For the rest of my life? What am I gonna do?” She couldn’t stop the tears that leaked down her cheeks. “I don’t wanna be like this! I feel all edgy and freaky, and I just kissed him and I totally lost all control and I went all skanky and slutty and it was the most embarrassing thing I ever did in my whole life, even worse than the time Bobby Hart pushed me in the pond when I was wearing my good party dress, and when Erlenmeyer tells everyone they’ll all think I’m all sleazy and skanky and the girls’ll all hate me and the boys’ll be all creepy and stuff, and… and I don’t know what to do!”
He handed her a box of tissues, and she started blowing her nose a lot, which was almost as embarrassing as all the crying she was doing, but she couldn’t seem to make herself stop.
He said, “I think your emotions are out of control, so you’re over-reacting. All the girls are going to understand about your squirrel spirit, especially after Pythia tells them that no one explained this to you. And all the boys should know better. You’re not the first student who has gone into heat. Not even this term. It’s a problem most of the school year. We have enough Avatars and enough animal-GSD cases that it’s something everyone around school has probably dealt with more than once. Even the freshman boys and girls. You’re in Dickinson and you spend your time with the Underdogs, so you’ve been somewhat shielded from this issue. It’s a lot more prevalent in Twain and Whitman and Hawthorne.”
He paused a moment and said, “And you haven’t done what most of our problem cases have done. You simply grew… over-exuberant with your boyfriend, and you were interrupted before things went too far. Right?” She nodded some.
He spent another ten minutes walking her through some relaxation exercises, until she was calmer and not ready to fly apart at the seams. Then he gave her two pieces of paper. She was kind of surprised when she saw what they were.
He smiled a little at her reaction. “Yes. That’s a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” She knew about Monopoly, so she smiled at that. It was a permission slip saying she had a reason to miss her classes for today. “The other is a prescription. I want you to go right over to the clinic. They’ll give you three shots. One’s a sedative, because you really need that right now. Then there’s an injectable deviser drug that’s excellent for birth control in female Avatars, and it will hold you through your next two periods. The third one is a drug that will depress your hormonal levels, so you won’t be getting aroused for a while. And the pills are more of the same, in a measured dose. Take one every morning with food, until your spirit stops sending you into heat. I’m sorry, but you won’t be getting aroused at all until we stop the dosage. So dating your boyfriend is going to be… different.”
Anna looked down at her hands and said, “Umm, that’s okay I guess. We mostly just talk and go out to dinner. But do you mean I won’t like kissing him anymore?”
“No, I mean that kissing him won’t be as pleasurable as it normally is. You’re going to have to tell him about this, so he’s prepared for the change in your reaction. Otherwise, he might get his feelings hurt. Boys are more sensitive about things like this than they want to admit. And you’re going to have to have a talk with him about what happened today, so he doesn’t get the wrong idea about you.”
Anna was so ashamed at the idea of having that kind of talk with Jerry that it felt like her face was on fire. And not in the ‘I am now going into heat like a squirrel’ way. No, it was more the ‘I would rather sit next to Nate after he eats chili than talk to Jerry about this’ way.
He said, “If you don’t think you can talk to your boyfriend about this, then talk to Pythia, and have her help you out. This is important.”
“O-okay. But I don’t think he’s gonna want to be my boyfriend anymore after this morning. I was so awful…” She had to blow her nose again, and she almost started crying again. She sort of felt like she hadn’t done anything except cry and have a runny nose since she ran away from Jerry.
He just said, “Aquerna, you’re an attractive, intelligent young lady. I think that having one moment of trouble with your powers is not going to ruin everything. If that was the case, then there wouldn’t be a single student on campus who still had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Remember that most students come to Whateley specifically because they need to learn to control their powers.”
“Okay.” But she just said that because she knew he wanted her to say it. She didn’t really believe it. It wasn’t like she was one of the campus pretties. There were like a hundred fifty girls on campus who were prettier than her and sexier than her, and even some of the GSD cases like Diamondback were really pretty, and she just knew Jerry could find someone better than her if he wanted to.
When they were done talking, she walked out of his office and found Pythia was waiting for her! “What are you doing here?”
Pythia just looked up from her book and said, “Doing my English homework.” She showed Anna the book, and it was ‘Moby Dick’. Anna knew it was about some guys in a whaling ship fighting a white whale that kills pretty much everybody at the end of the book, but that was about all. She was pretty sure the Star Trek captain guy did a movie of it a couple years ago, but she hadn’t watched it.
Anna said, “That wasn’t what I meant.”
Pythia smiled at her. “I know. I figured you’d need some moral support, so I’m here to walk you over to the clinic.”
Anna stared at the carpet and said, “That’s really nice of you. I mean-”
“Relax, will you? Most of the stuff Mrs. Nelson asks me to do is no fun at all. Arbitrating arguments between two bitchy girls who won’t back down and may rip the building apart at any second. Running around finding people who don’t want to be found. Getting people to go somewhere they don’t want to go. This is way nicer.”
“Okay. I guess.”
So as they walked over to the clinic, Pythia told her about having to get two roommates to agree to a truce after they nearly beat each other senseless over whether one roommate damaged the other roommate’s stuffed animal. Pythia was really careful not to name names or even tell enough stuff for Anna to figure out who it was, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t anyone on her floor. But it sure sounded like Pythia could’ve used a lot more PK power than she had, when those two roommates started tussling in the middle of things. Anna had seen what a couple bricks could do when they got mad at each other, so she was glad she didn’t have Pythia’s job.
At the clinic, a nice nurse took her back to an examining room, and she didn’t even have to get all undressed and put on one of those awful hospital gown things that left your butt hanging out the back. She only waited three or four minutes, and a lady doctor came in, wearing a spotless white labcoat that was totally unlike the things she’d seen the devisers wear down in the Workshop. She also had really, really long hair that looked perfect. Anna wondered how she kept it looking so good all day.
Well, she wondered right up until the hair start moving around all by itself. She nearly jumped off the table when the hair picked up the clipboard with the papers on it and held it where the lady could read it.
The lady smiled at her and said, “Hi. I’m Dr. Tenent. You can call me Ophelia, if that would make you feel better. Or Caduceus.”
“Umm, Doctor Tenent is okay.”
The lady doctor said, “I hear you’ve had a very bad day. I’m going to give you a sedative and a hormone depressant and a shot of Deprovestia for birth control, and give you a prescription for pills to take every morning with food so they don’t upset your stomach. Got that?”
“Now we don’t have your parents’ permission on the birth control, but your parents signed off on giving Whateley administration full in loco parentis and your housemother did give her permission, so this is completely okay. If it’s okay with you. Do you have any moral or religious objections to taking a birth control shot?”
Anna couldn’t really think of any. Mainly it was that nice girls weren’t supposed to take birth control and her mom would be mad at her about it if she found out. But she wasn’t a nice girl anymore, because she was going into heat and jumping on guys like someone even worse than Cytherea. And she didn’t know if she’d ever even get to see her mom ever again. She said, “No.” But tears started leaking out of her eyes again and she had to blow her nose some more.
The doctor said, “Would you rather roll up your sleeves or slip off your blouse? I’m going to give you one shot in each bicep and one small shot in your left forearm.”
After what she’d done, she felt really icky about even thinking about taking her clothes off, so she rolled up both her sleeves as much as she could. The shots didn’t hurt too bad, but it was really weird having a dozen strands of long hair helping her lay down on the examining table. The doctor just smiled at her expression and said, “Don’t worry, I keep my hair really clean.”
Then the doctor said, “I’m setting up an appointment for you with a clinic counselor about choosing some longer-term birth control that will work with your Avatar spirit, and that’s going to be… let’s see… is tomorrow at eleven okay?” Anna nodded, and the doctor said, “Now I’m going to let one of your friends come back here to sit with you, and I want you to lay down here for one hour. I’ll come back and check on you now and then, but I want the sedative to take effect before you leave, because you’re a bundle of nerves right now.”
She pouted, “I can’t help it. I’ve been… I was… It was awful! And everybody’s gonna know about it in no time!” Tears began streaming out of the corners of her eyes, leaking across her cheeks, and even into one of her ears, which was really weird and not comfortable.
The hairs handed her several tissues, and she even said thank you to the hair, which made her feel stupid because she should’ve said it to the doctor.
So it was a huge relief when Ree came rushing in and gave her a huge hug, which was kind of awkward since she was lying on her back and her upper arms were pretty sore from the shots and stuff. “Ree! I’m so glad you’re here!”
Ree watched as the doctor patted her on the shoulder – with another chunk of hair too – and walked out, telling her to let Anna rest and just sit with her, and she’d be back to check on Anna in a while. Then Ree said, “Mrs. Savage said you needed some help and I should come over here right away, and something happened today. Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Did Buster beat you up? Come on, gimme a hint here!”
Anna whimpered. Just a little bit. “Please don’t be mad at me.”
“Why would I be mad at you?”
Anna said, “Remember my New Years resolutions? Not to eat too much when my squirrels came out of hibernation, and…”
“Oh my God!” Ree gasped. “You… did?” Anna nodded miserably. “You went into heat?”
Anna whimpered, “I’ve been feeling all edgy and weird for a couple days, but I didn’t know what it was, and then I went down to see Jerry to see if he needed me to bring him some lunch, and we kissed, and… bam! I totally jumped all over him, just like a big ol’ skanky ho. Right there in the hallway! I ripped his labcoat, and I wrapped my legs around him, and gave him a… you know, and… Oh jeez, I have no idea what would’ve happened if someone hadn’t walked out into the hall and seen us. And it was Erlenmeyer, and I just know he’ll blab about it to the whole Workshop, and everyone’ll think I’m a skanky slut. And I’m not! And Doctor Bellows says it’s my squirrel spirit and someone should’ve told me all about this ahead of time, like last September, and I’m just so embarrassed I could scream!”
Ree hugged her again, and said, “But it’s not your fault. And you didn’t do anything, right? Just kissing him?”
Anna winced, “And doing the grinding-the-hips thing. Right into his…”
“Did he have a hardon?” Ree whispered naughtily.
“Totally,” Anna winced again. “And I was so hot I think I just about melted my jeans, and then when I realized what I was doing, I was so ashamed I just ran, and I don’t even know where I ran, I just ended up back at Dickinson, and I lost my coat and my backpack and my purse and everything, and I’ll never pass all my classes without my notes for studying, and Jerry’ll probably never speak to me again!” She sobbed miserably for a while, and Ree held her hand and told her it would be okay, and after a while she must’ve cried herself to sleep.
When she woke up again, she was still laying down on the not real comfortable table, and Ree was sitting in a chair with a little light on, reading what looked like a Reader’s Digest.
Ree looked up and smiled. “Feeling better?”
“Sorta groggy, but yeah.”
Ree checked her watch. “Come on. Doctor Tenent – the lady with the weird hair – gave me your prescription.” She patted a pocket, and Anna could hear the faint clinking of pills in a plastic bottle. “We can go back to the dorms before dinner.”
Anna winced. “I dunno if I wanna go to dinner tonight. After today, a lot of people might’ve heard, and it might get icky.”
Ree said, “Anna! You gotta eat. Pythia said you missed lunch, and you’re gonna feel a lot worse if you miss dinner too. Besides, we’re off to the side on the bottom floor, and all the mean jerks are upstairs. Or way off at that side table. No one’ll bother us. Except while we’re in line.” Ree cringed when she realized she shouldn’t have said that, so she added, “And you can skip that if you really want to, and we can get stuff for you. We all know what you like. Okay?”
“I guess so,” Anna said unhappily.
“And we won’t let Nate pick anything out,” Ree smiled.
Anna didn’t want to giggle, but she did. She wanted to be sad and angry and miserable and ashamed and stuff, but Ree was really funny. Plus, she remembered the weird bean burrito casserole Nate had picked out for Mindy the last time they did something like this. Nate was just sort of magically attracted to beans, or something. Okay, Mindy said it tasted a lot better than she thought it would and she thanked Nate and all, but everyone knew Nate would pick out something like chili or the three-bean salad or bean enchiladas. She got up and hugged Ree and said, “You’re the best friend ever, you know that?”
Ree grinned and said, “Well sure, that’s my superpower. Captain Sparklehand, the dreaded friendmaker.”
Anna giggled again and let Ree walk her off to Dickinson. She walked in, and found Mrs. Nelson waiting for her with her coat and her backpack. “Here you go, Anna. Your purse is safe inside the pack, too.”
“Oh my gosh, how’d that happen?” Anna asked.
A voice behind her said, “When you ran off, you left ‘em on the floor.”
Anna gulped. It was Jerry! She turned around nervously, figuring he’d be really mad at her.
He handed her one white rose, still unopened. “I figured you needed something, after today went so off the rails for you. After you ran off and I came out of my daze, Erl just had to tell me the whole thing. Like I hadn’t been there. And that was when I figured it out, what with you being an Avatar for a squirrel spirit. So I threatened Erl a bunch, and I picked up your stuff, and I brought it back over here. But you were already gone to Shuster. So I went and did class stuff and waited until Pythia called me, and then I came right over.”
She sobbed, “Jerry, I’m so, so sorry.”
He opened up his arms, and she jumped in for a big hug. He said, “It’s not your fault, sweetie. And it’ll be okay.”
“But Erlenmeyer will blab about it to everybody!”
He said, “Not if he knows what’s good for him. I told him if anybody heard about it at all, I was going to tell Jobe that Erl said he was going to slip her some rohypnol and ‘tap that’. Erl’s afraid Jobe will believe me, since Erl’s been a huge asshole to her about the whole Drow thing and how big her boobs got, and her butt, and her legs, and everything. And you know Jobe would do something gruesome to Erl. Maybe Drow him. Or turn him into a big spider. Or something even worse. So Erl’s going to keep his big mouth shut.” Jerry hugged her a little harder and whispered, “Besides, Erl likes you a lot better than he likes me.”
She hugged him back and tried not to be weepy. But she finally believed things would be okay.
Except, oh gosh, she still had to tell him about the hormone suppressing stuff!