Friday, November 17th, 2006
One of the great hallmarks of a good leader is the back up plan. That nearly subconscious reflex that all men and women of action develop over the course of years to deal with that classic moment when it all goes to shit; because, after all, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Patton was such a man, or Alexander, or any other of an all star team of military greats marching through history.
This was, of course, that nibbling little thought that always seems to run through your mind when you deal with a crisis. With a whine of hydraulics the muzzle of the tank’s main gun, about the size of my head, lowered covering us in a classic example of over kill. There were five of them, tanks that is, arranged in a star pattern that forced us in a clump, shoulder to shoulder and back to back, with all those preposterously large guns pointing in at us.
“What now, General?” asked Hank with a very generous dollop of sarcasm to his tone.
“Oh, suddenly I’m in charge?” I shot back. “You’re the tactician!”
“Whose idea was it to pants the Colonel?”
“Like I made him wear purple polka dot boxers this morning?” I demanded with a scathing glance towards my would be, kind of/sort of was boyfriend. Our little lover’s quarrel was not to last, however. A hatch opened up on the top of the tank in front of me and a soldier clamored out, a pistol in my direction.
As if I didn’t have enough guns pointed at me, right? “Freeze!” he shouted, something of a nervous tremble to his tone. Doubtless he was as frightening of the ‘Muties’ in front of him as I was of being shot with a bullet that was nearly as tall as I was. “Put up your hands!”
Thank you! Ah, the serendipity of second thoughts. I raised both hands, much to the amazement of my teammates who seemed ready to take on the Army. There were, I suppose after all, only five of them and seven of us. I’m inclined to re-work the math a little bit seeing as they had really big guns, but Math is probably one of my worse subjects.
The point was, my hands were over my head; which was exactly where I needed them to be to do what I did. The soft haze of my force field bubble distorted the vision of the soldier then to everyone but me, the world went dark as I bent the light around the bubble, rendering it invisible.
Which was good because the flash of all those guns going off at once might have blinded someone. Five separate one hundred and twenty millimeter armor piercing, discarding sabot depleted uranium shells, each traveling at 1860 meters per second struck the edge of my field at a range of about six inches pretty much at the same time. Hey I listen in class!
The field buckled slightly from that much kinetic energy being pumped into it, but it held. The noise was deafening. I flew us straight up to a height of about a thousand meters, taking in the situation.
The barrels of the tanks were all glowing as the residual heat of the rounds being defeated radiated so close to them, but they were probably still in the fight. That wasn’t good. “Trevor,” I called out as Tennyo fired up her sword, giving the non-Earth’s magnetic field perceiving folks some light to see by. “Do your thing, sweetie.”
The young man nodded, his still round with baby fat face taking on an almost steely expression. I popped a new bubble around Trevor, and while still keeping it and the rest of us invisible, separated the two. Trevor’s bubble streaked into the lake, an estuary of the Miscatonic River, formed beside the road where we had just been standing. “Lancer?” I asked Hank with just a bit of challenge to my tone. He just favored me with a lopsided grin.
“You want to go to a movie tomorrow night?”
“Can we save the School from the Army first?”
“You’re so sexy when you’re determined. Here’s the drill,” he snapped, back into his confident tactician mode. “While Trevor takes out those tanks, Tennyo, Phoenix Fire and I will drop the covered bridge. Psymod, you’re on secure com. duty and Dredz, you give him and Wall Flower cover if the three of you have to land. We’ll form up a skirmishing line and retreat back to the main gate in strength while we wait for reinforcement. Everybody got it? Let’s move!”
A slight alteration of the wavelength of my bubble let Hank, Ashley and Billie out where they streaked towards the rustic covered bridge that was the only approach to Whateley Academy from Dunwich. The soldier in the tank caught sight of them as they left the field, but before he could do anything, he had bigger worries.
Trevor, now very much living up to his code name of Leviathan had grown too large for the small lake to contain. A mass of tentacles reached out from his now bloated, half whale, and half octopus body and effortlessly bent the barrels of the tanks into interesting, but hopelessly inoperable shapes, while others began to beat them into ruin.
The soldiers fled.
Between my three friends, the bridge never really stood a chance. It crumbled under their combined onslaught while I brought my three back down to Earth. Trevor had just gotten back to his ‘normal’ size and out of the lake with a bit of huffing and puffing when the country road we stood on faded into a steel gray panel.
“Clear in Control,” Mrs. Bohn’s voice drifted from the concealed speakers in the ceiling.
It was Hank, being our de facto team leader who responded, “Clear below,” letting her know that no one in our little war game had been injured.
Oh, what, you thought the Army was rolling into to Whateley for real? Well, so did we. That’s the point of all this training, and I have to admit, Powers Lab is probably my favorite class. “Miss Turner, I’ll be wanting a word with you in private.”
That didn’t bode well. “Yes ma’am,” I called up to her.
We milled around in a knot waiting for Mrs. Bohn and the rest of the class to get down into the simulator proper, all of us wondering what we’d done wrong this time. She arrived, lips pressed thinly together in her displeasure, before taking me by the elbow and walking to the far side of the room. “Do you have any idea how dangerous what you did was?”
“Dropping the bridge?” I asked in confusion. “But we were told…” I started before she shook her head.
“I’m talking about standing there and letting those tanks shoot you. You didn’t even try to get out of the way!”
“They were all pointed at each other!” I protested. “If I had gotten out of the way, they’d have shot each other and killed all those soldiers.”
Mrs. Bohn’s normally kindly face flushed scarlet. “So you were willing to trade your life and the lives of your team mates for people trying to kill you?” she demanded.
I was trying to see where she was coming from, but her assumption that I couldn’t have done what I did was starting to get my dander up as well. “No!” I hissed back at her. “I know what my limits are. I’ve had a building fall on my bubbles so, yes, I was pretty damn sure I could stop those rounds. Unless you toned the simulation down, I’m right, aren’t I?”
“That’s not an excuse, Miss Turner!” she exploded at me, probably the first time I’d ever seen her lose her temper before. A couple of the other kids were giving us a look, but a withering glance from Mrs. Bohn told them how interesting the floor and walls were just then. Obviously taking a moment to calm down, she continued. “Because you get away with something doesn’t make it safe or advisable.” A thoughtful sigh escaped her lips. “No, I didn’t tone down the simulation, but that’s not my point. On my desk, Monday morning, I want a four page paper on the physics of what you did, emphasizing the amount of energy your bubble stopped as compared to a comparable weight of TNT. Dr. Quintain will be able to assist you in the math.”
Arguing the point would have only increased the size of my new homework assignment. “Yes, ma’am,” I answered and you’ll forgive me if my tone was a bit surly. We walked back over to the group together, and while I could tell everybody wanted the skinny on what had gone down, nobody wanted to risk Mrs. Bohn’s new found wrath by asking.
“First team, hit the showers,” she ordered, with neither comment nor critique of our performance. “Second team, stand by and get your game face on.”
My compatriots and I made our way to the restrooms that were just outside the simulator. When we were safely out of earshot, Hank leaned in and asked, “What’s got Mrs. Bohn in a twist?”
“She didn’t like the fact that I took those tank rounds instead of flying out of the way and letting them kill each other,” I groused. “I have issue with putting us against the Army, but I’m just the student.”
“I’ve never seen her ticked off before,” he commented softly. “I guess what you did was pretty dangerous then?” My shoulders lifted and fell as we arrived at the women’s room door.
“To hear her tell it, the Free World was placed in imminent danger because I happen to know what my power limits are.” I turned to enter with the rest of the females, but was halted by him as he carefully grabbed my elbow. Looking back into his face with it’s off center grin made me feel a little better.
“You still haven’t answered my question, Lily.” Confusion danced across my features, still obscured by the domino mask that was a part of the predominately black and white uniform I wore.
“Other than that, I don’t know what’s got her panties in a bunch,” I told him a mite peevishly. His grin just got broader.
“It’s not Mrs. Bohn’s panties I’m worried about,” he said with his smile dancing in his oddly inviting gray eyes. “More to the point, I’m not interested in taking Mrs. Bohn to the movies.”
I think if I ever go after a doctorate, my thesis is going to be Picosecond Biological Sexual Responses in Mutant Teenage Girls. Faster than I could perceive I had gone from being grumpy and ticked off to my heart thundering in my chest and a marked difficulty in breathing.
It wasn’t because I’d just been put through a wringer of a workout, either.
“I…um…sure!” I temporized. “What would we go see?”
“Well, if you’re up for something in the biz, the Lady Lightening movie came out today.” I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. Not matter how Hank may have started life, he was all male now. To his credit, he picked up on my reaction and began to back peddle pretty quickly. “We don’t have to see that. That Julia Roberts thing is out too…”
“Between those two, I’ll take Lady Lightening,” I told him with a laugh. “Nothing says we have to decide now. Sure, I’m up for it. Catch the nine am shuttle?” He nodded his acquiescence and departed for the men’s room with a strut in his walk that I found eminently flattering.
From powers lab, my day went down hill pretty quick.
French; what can I add to the lengthy list of items to dislike? But, as numbing as that was, it was just a class. Sit in the uniform, plaid skirt and blazer this time, repeat the questions whose answers I won’t understand to receive directions to a library full of books I won’t be able to read. That wasn’t the real problem.
No, the problem rested squarely on the narrow shoulders of Ito-san, my sensei for Martial Arts.
Because today was my mid-term test to see if Toni’s diligent instruction in the basic forms had gotten me ‘up to the level of the rest of the class’. Now, by my guess, that answer was a resounding no. Toni could still get the better of me in hand to hand without so much as breaking a sweat.
Which had me really worried as the ‘test’ would be a match, drawn by lot, with me against whomever I was unlucky enough to pull. Yesterday had been my kata or forms test, which I’d done well enough on. However, Ito-san felt that function followed form. There was no point in advancing a student who couldn’t employ the kata they had been tested on.
So I found myself in my starched and pressed school gi adorned with its plain white belt, facing the class as Ito-san returned from handing out a series of small stones with an animal carved onto them. The matching bag he removed from its dangling place on his belt. “Turner-san, are you prepared?” he asked calmly.
A deep breath bought me a few extra seconds to bow with. “Hai, sensei.”
His hand disappeared into the bag for a moment of fiddling around before he removed a stone. “Crane!” he announced after a quick glance. After a moment of each student checking his or her stone, a winnowy girl not much taller than me stood and bowed. She was very pretty with a heart shaped face framed very relaxed ringlets of light brown hair framing eyes of robin’s egg blue. She wore a green belt around her own gi. Ito-san seemed pleased with the selection. “Ah, Solla-san, excellent, just the student for our test. You all are aware of my position on powers, but with your permission, Turner-san,I would like Solla-san to employ hers, so that you might have the most fair of trials.”
I turned to the girl, whom my mind wanted to name Theresa and bowed. “I have no objection, sensei.” She reached out and took my hand for a moment, causing a tingling sensation where her fingers touched my skin.
After a moment of this, Theresa began to shrink, ever so slightly. Her brown hair grew out, darkened to a deep black as her bust, not a bra-breaker, but more than me, flattened until a perfect copy of myself stood before me. She smirked at the doubtlessly flummoxed expression that must have been all over my face. “Now you know why they call me Duplex,” she told me in my own voice.
Were I the cynical sort, I’d be wondering if the deck had been stacked.
“The match will be the best of three falls,” Mr. Ito announced. “Use of powers, other than what I have just authorized, is an automatic disqualification. Begin!”
Theresa didn’t waste any time, immediately launching a kick towards my stomach I was able to give enough ground to avoid. I managed to grab her by the ankle and lift her leg to cost her her balance and she toppled over backwards onto the matt.
It was so weird watching myself, save for the green belt Theresa was wearing, get up from the fall. I wonder if this was what it looked like from Toni’s point of view? “One,” Mr. Ito intoned.
We circled for a moment or two, each kind of feeling out the other, before I decided to try something a bit more aggressive and whipped in for a strike to grapple hold. Theresa neatly deflected my strike, locked up my arm and pulled me off balance. From the matt I sighed to keep my patience to the seemingly unconcerned voice of Mr. Ito. “One all.”
Theresa helped me back up and we began to circle once more. This time she led for a strike almost daring me to try to copy her move. I pushed her fist aside well enough, but as I collected a good handful of her gi in preparation of pulling her to the matt, her heel struck the back of my foot rather sharply as she planted her foot behind mine. Before I could realize I’d walked into her trap, her entire body followed her shoulder into my chest. Between the fulcrum her foot made and the impact across the center of my own mass, I was bent over backward.
I knew at that moment I was going to fall, but damned if wasn’t taking her with me!
I threw my off hand around her neck and pulled, using my own falling weight as momentum. I hit the mat with a painful oof of escaping air as she fell on top of me. “Two all,” Mr. Ito announced with just a hint of that wry humor in his tone.
We helped each other to our feet, Theresa rubbing her neck slightly from where I’d grabbed it. “You ok?” I asked her, concerned that I’d latched on too hard in my reflex. My face grinned back at me.
“I’ll live,” she told me through her smile. “Ready?”
“Let’s do it.” We circled each other once more while I tried to make up my mind whether I wanted to risk attacking again. Both of my falls had been reactionary. I wasn’t sure if Mr. Ito would hold that against me, and I didn’t want to find out.
Which meant I had to act first.
I feinted with a strike at her, well I guess, my face which caused her to back pedal. I let the momentum of the swing carry me down and opened my hand for balance as I swept out my foot to hook up hers. She hopped up to avoid my sweep, but I was kind of hoping she would do that. With both feet still in the air, my other arm not occupied with holding my weight I forced as ridged as I could and pushed off the matt with all my strength.
My arm got tangled up in her descending legs and my upward momentum carried her feet up with me. She was dumped rather hard onto her back and lay still for a moment while the reality of my victory sunk in. “Turner-san is victorious,” Mr. Ito announced to the polite applause from the rest of the class.
My double morphed back into her old self with a congratulatory smile on her face. “Nice,” she complimented as she took my hand and got back to her feet.
“Very well done,” remarked Mr. Ito as he removed a yellow belt from the folds of his own gi and with great ceremony presented it to me. I caught Toni’s wink she threw me over our sensei’s shoulder.
In a small way, the thumbs up she flashed me was worth more than the belt I took with my deepest bow from Mr. Ito. It was almost a graduation in and of itself. “Order,” Sensei called out softly, bringing me back to the present. Once silence had fallen on the room once more, he continued, “As you should all be aware, next week is the Thanksgiving Holiday. There will be no classes Thursday or Friday. There will be a school wide assembly Wednesday so there will be no classes that day either. I may be an old man, but I am not so foolish as to believe that young people looking at a holiday will be diligent students. Therefore, I will wish you all a safe and happy holiday and look forward to your return to class in December. Class is dismissed.”
If Mr. Ito had announced he was running for President that moment, I could guarantee he would get the vote of every student there. If we were old enough to vote, that is. The class stood, bowed carefully, and proceeded to imitate a stampede to the locker rooms.
I’d decided early in the semester to keep a pair of jeans and a tee shirt in my locker here, as it was my last class of the day, so as to avoid returning to that awful knee skirt and socks out fit the school thought looked good. Getting out early from Martial Arts was something of a God send, though every silver lining had its cloud I quickly discovered. “Hey, Lily, you go girl!” called Toni as she joined me at my locker.
“Thanks,” my reply was somewhat muffled as I pulled on the shirt. “I didn’t think I was up to it.”
“Naw,” she waved off my worries with an easy confidence. “You had it. I wasn’t taking it easy on you, so I knew you’d pull it off. If you’d like to keep sparing, that’s cool.”
“That would be great,” I told her with gratitude. I don’t think anyone could ask for a better tutor on the subject.
“We’re all heading over to Crystal Hall to hang before dinner,” she went on. “Care to tag along?”
Here comes that dark cloud I warned you about. “Can’t, I have to go get some information from Dr. Quintain for a paper I have to write over the weekend for Mrs. Bohn.”
She shrugged. “All good. Catch you later then.”
Dr. Quintain I had in my third period which was Powers Theory. He was constantly making me try to reverse the polarity of magnets and illuminate magnetic fields with my force fields.
I’d gotten five points extra credit for doing that trick for his AP Science Class.
He was an alright sort, if more than a little boring as a speaker. Very much the Research Scientist, in that, physically he was about as imposing as a door stop. Come to that, he was kind of shaped that way.
Getting out of Martial Arts early had given me enough time to get back across campus to his class right as the time bell rang. I waited while the stragglers left, suffering through a lecherous wink from Alex ‘Dash’ Morgan, resident gentleman bandit of the Master Minds. “Lily! Lily! Lily!” he greeted in his best Cary Grant impersonation. I’ll give him credit, it’s a good one.
“Mr. Morgan,” I greeted with a roll of my eyes.
His expression was wounded to the point of heart break, and just as sincere. “What? No hard feelings about our little misadventures, are there? At least you got a job out of it,” he told me with a rueful shake of his head. “We got stuck scrubbing out the toilets on campus. All of them.”
“Crime doesn’t pay,” I reminded him.
He saddled up and leaned against the doorway, towering over me as he blithely shoved that silver forelock of his out of the way. “For a smile from the lovely Wall Flower, I would scrub them all again,” he purred.
“Oh, I rate the bathrooms eh? What did you promise to do for Hazard? Or Steffi Zink? Or…” I trailed off and left the rather long list of girls around campus he hit on with regularity hanging. Alex was only serious with women in that he was serious about women. He changed romantic interests as often as most people changed socks.
“Only the easy things I’d have to do anyway,” he responded, blithely waving away his reputation with one of his well practiced smiles. “For you, my raven haired vixen, I would suffer.”
“To quote the Bard, ‘Suffer me a moment in peace’,” I teased him as I slipped under the arm he was propping himself up with and into the class proper.
“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” he exclaimed, walking away backwards, arms dramatically out stretched. “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night, like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear-beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!” He dropped a stiff, theatrical bow and spun, coming nose to bust with Mega-Girl.
“Move along, Romeo!” she chided him as they disentangled themselves. I couldn’t help shaking my head in amusement. There was just something likeable about Alex.
“Dr. Quintain, could I have a moment of your time please?” He sighed as he returned his briefcase to the top of his desk. “I’ve pulled an assignment from Mrs. Bohn that’s very heavy in physics and I have to write a paper on it. She said you would help me with the math.”
“Did she?” he drawled. “She’s very free with my schedule. Still, in the interests of higher learning, I’ll see if I can be of assistance. What is your problem?” It seemed obvious he was about as thrilled about being ‘volunteered’ as I was, but, as I detailed out what I had done he came to life, frantically scribbling notations on his blackboard in a manner dangerously close to animated.
“Six inches, you say? How close together did they fire?”
I shrugged. “It sounded like they all went off at once.”
The more he wrote on the board, the less like English it looked. “This is extraordinary, Miss Turner! Absolutely amazing! And you’re certain Mrs. Bohn did not alter the energy from the specifications of the simulation?”
“She said she didn’t.”
“When did the simulation end?” he pressed.
“Why is that important?”
He sighed. “The simulators have a set of safety protocols built into them. If the simulator puts more energy into a student’s power than the student can deal with, the simulations stops instantly.”
“Oh, well it was about four or five minutes later that the Sim ended, sir.”
He rocked back and forth on his heels like I’d just told him the cure for cancer. “Extraordinary!” he repeated again. “In any event, Miss Turner, this is the equation you’ll need. KE = .5(m)(v2) where KE is Kinetic Energy in Joules, M is Mass in kilograms and V is the velocity of the projectile.”
“How do I find all that out?” I wanted to know. He sniffed sharply as he carefully wrote Do Not Erase on the board and picked up his briefcase.
“There is a new invention you may not be aware of, Miss Turner, called the Internet. If it is too high tech for you, the school has an excellent library. Good afternoon.” And with that he was out the door, still muttering numbers, theories and Department of Defense grant forms he’d need into his pocket voice recorder.
The walk back to Poe was a fairly long one, unfortunately. The school’s built in cover stories about why kids were in Poe were mostly built around the fact they were ‘head cases’ and so, ‘the freaks’ were the farthest from the regular buildings of the school.
I spent most of that walk trying to think of a list of likely web sites where I could get information on the odd jumble of letters and numbers Mrs. Bohn had given me that the Army used to identify the rounds I had stopped. Unfortunately, I’m not exactly the most computer literate girl at the school (which evidently offered classes in hacking) so my ideas began and ended with Google.
Despite my own self absorption with my problems, it pays to always keep an eye and an ear out for trouble on this campus. I’d had two ‘quizzes’ from Mr. Ito leaping out from behind a bush and attacking me.
He was really a good sport about the tear gas pellet too.
As I was passing Schuster Hall, I noticed an older boy having a shouting match with a very pretty, but obviously younger girl. While I didn’t know either, I kept them in sight while trying not to stare. There was no telling around here when a lover’s spat could go thermonuclear. The girl was taller than me, I’d guess and had the beginnings of an absolutely killer figure. Long, light blonde hair flowed about her shoulders in the kind of care free style I know takes about three quarters of an hour to manage. But as striking as she was, she paled in comparison to him.
He was all that!
Let’s start with the basics, shall we? He stood somewhere above six feet while still being below two hundred pounds, I’d guess. He was wearing the White polo shirt the seniors got to wear that was embroidered with the coat of arms and it painted a Greek Adonis underneath. Reddish brown hair flowed about his head in a halo that managed to still appear neat and not need a pony tail to do so. This was highlighted by a ‘Robin Hood’ beard that covered his chin, but no moustache and he rather looked like Error Flynn after a serious work out regimen.
He looked up, his emerald green eyes catching mine and I, honestly, did the doe in the headlights thing. His smile made me think summer was coming early.
“No,” he told the girl he’d been talking to. “That’s final, Barbara! Now if you’ll excuse me.” ‘Barbara’ fumed as he extracted himself and walked purposefully in my direction. He didn’t need to hurry, I still couldn’t move.
As he reached conversational distance, he gave a shallow bow and that smile of his beamed once more. “Lily Turner, isn’t it?” I’m not sure where my voice went, but it liked it there and wasn’t coming back anytime soon. I forced a nod. “Hi, my name’s Arthur Smith, could I speak with you for a moment?”
I made to point back to Poe, to explain where I was going, but my voice was still being petulant and so I found myself pointing silently down the trail. Turning to bring the Cottage further in line caused my books to shift and down they tumbled in a clump.
“Let me get those for you,” he told me, managing to avoid my own head in the classic klutzy girl movie moment and get my books before I could. “My codename is Pendragon,” he said from the ground. “I’m the Team Leader for the Future Superheroes of America here on Campus.”
“The Cape Squad,” I squeaked before I could censor myself. Oh swell the voice back from vacation and promptly shoving my foot down my throat!
Arthur chuckled good naturedly as he stood back up and presented my books to me. “That’s one of our more polite nicknames, yes,” he said. “I’m a great fan of your Father, Falcon.”
“Dad’s pretty cool,” I agreed with him. Hell, I’d have agreed with him if he told me the Sun was black.
“You arrived after Rush for the campus clubs and organizations,” he went on. “Still, I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone from the chance of having the most fulfilling scholastic life they could. I was wondering if you had any intentions of joining any of the school’s accepted Organizations?”
My mouth tried to get me in trouble again so I clamped it shut so forcefully my teeth snapped. After a long, frustrated sigh, I managed to get my mouth and brain working together again. “I honestly hadn’t given it much thought,” I managed. “I suppose I should, shouldn’t I?” If looks could kill, the daggers Barbara was glaring at me would have been sufficient to start and end World War Three.
Arthur’s sunny smile shown down on me again, making me forget the jealous glances of the other girl. “I certainly think so. We’re having our normal meeting Sunday, at the Crystal Hall at 2:00 PM. I’d really like you to consider coming.”
“I’d be happy to!” I affirmed. “Count me in!”
“I’ll look forward to seeing you there,” he told me by way of parting. Oh yes, there was someone I was definitely looking forward to seeing in spandex!
As I watched Mr. Magnificent walk away a new danger entered my line of vision. This time, danger rode an Iron Horse; literally. A ruggedly handsome young man bestride a mechanical Clydesdale whose doubtlessly immense weight caused the ground to tremble slightly at its approach. “Fair maiden!” he called out as the clockwork Clydesdale stopped closer to me than I’d like.
Mistral, the horse, had a bad habit of shorting out at the most inopportune times. Once to my knowledge he’d exploded for no reason anyone could fathom.
“Hello, Paul,” I greeted warily. Paul ‘Stalwart’ Cambridge was about as far as you could go on the Arthurian scale from Pendragon. Pendragon, as you might have picked up on, will be able to live a normal life. He’s not defined by his hero ID, at least not in the way Paul is.
They’re both devastatingly good looking men, and while I’m not a big fan of facial hair, they both keep what they have neat, well groomed and presentable. And that’s where the similarities stop. Paul, even now, bestride this mechanized monster was in his school uniform, tie, oxford and blazer clashing garishly with the barded knightly war horse. He couldn’t not speak in a patois of Old English blurred by a thick Mississippi Deep South accent.
I knew him because he was playing Cassio for Othello.
“Well met, Maid Lily!” he announced as he clamored off Mistral. “Would that Ah endeavor upon ya’ll to grant me a boon.”
This doesn’t bode well. “What kind of a favor, Paul?”
“Mightn’t we high to some private place that Ah might bespeak mah boon to thy ear alone?”
I puzzled out the, badly, used Old English for a moment. “What ‘private place’ did you have in mind?”
He pointed over my shoulder towards Poe. “Doth not thy castle stand hard by?”
Sigh. “Yes, my dorm is just over there.”
“Permit me the honor of…” he started before I held out my palm to cut him off.
“There’s not enough money in the world to get me on that thing, Paul. I’ll walk thanks.” He seemed more than a bit crestfallen before working out a remote control and pressing it in the direction of Mistral. The horse tossed an exaggerated nod and trotted off in the direction of Emerson Cottage, Paul’s own dorm.
“Honor demands Ah not ride whilst a lady walks,” he told me. I shrugged and started walking, not in the least looking forward to the difficulties that awaited us on arrival.
I tried a couple of times on the walk to get out of him what he wanted but he’d only offer up a complicated, oddly worded compliment on my appearance. I’ve got to give him credit; no girl gets tired of a compliment.
Mrs. Horton was standing by the door to the cottage as we approached the slightest of frowns on her face as she wrote Paul’s name on the visitor clipboard next to mine. “Shifting targets, Mr. Cambridge?” she asked in that light tone I’d come to recognize she used right before nailing somebody with an infraction.
“Nay, Dame Horton,” Paul replied. “Ah seekest the wisdom of Maid Lily in mah quest.”
“God save you,” she told me with a nod of dismissal.
“And you!” Paul replied, thinking she was playing into his delusion. I led Prince Charmed up the stairs to my room, knocking before I entered.
“It’s open,” Mary’s voice drifted through the panel.
“You decent?” I yelled back without opening the door. She opened it, a smile of welcome on her face that vanished like a morning mist into horror at who stood with me.
“Paul!” she managed, shrinking back while trying to put a smile on her face. “How are you?”
“Well, Maid Mary, that all is well with ya’ll, Ah am even so.”
Mary’s eyes skewered mine blasting a dozen questions about my choice of visitor. “Sorry,” I told her. “Paul here needed a tutor for a scene and Mr. Lord volunteered me.” There are times, the less truth you put out, the better all around. It wasn’t that Mary had a problem with Paul; it was that she had a problem with men.
Now, my roommate, the lesbian, and I get along fairly well. If I broke out into hives whenever I touched a guy, I’d probably join the ranks of the ‘Sisterhood’ as it’s referred to as well. She got along well with most of the boys around, so long as they weren’t in close proximity and, well, not in our exceptionally small dorm room. “No, no, it’s all good,” she stammered, grabbing her purse and carefully squeezing out the door being careful not to come into direct contact with Paul. “I...I, uh…I have to go do…something. Nice seeing you Paul!”
With that, she turned and fled in the direction of the back stairs. “Did Ah…?” started Paul in confusion.
“It’s not you,” I told him as I entered and plopped down at the desk, waving him towards my bed to sit. “It’s your gender. Mary has some interesting medical problems, testosterone allergy being chief among them.”
“How sad so angelic a flower is doomed to a life alone,” he mused, genuinely not thinking that there was this thing called lesbianism that Mary just might be into.
“So, what’s this favor?” I asked him.
“Ah…might Ah prevail upon thee…”
“Paul, stop,” I interrupted. “My first answer is, if you want a favor out of me, you’re going to have to ask in Modern English. I’m not in the mood to try and puzzle out your take on Shakespeare, ok?” He flashed a bit of hurt before a slight nod of agreement.
“Ah will endeavor to do so,” he finally managed after a long moment of thought. “Ah am in love with the…with Nikki Reilly. Yet she has spurned…turned me down. Ah would be greatly…would like ya’ll to help me learn how to win…figure out how to ask her out.”
“Let me be sure I understand you,” I told him, doing my best to keep the giggle fit threatening to break loose firmly in my chest. “You want me to help you have a date with Nikki, is that right?”
“More than a date!” he protested.
“I’m not a marriage broker, Paul. Start small and work up.” He nodded, his gold and silver eyes begging me for help. “Alright, I suppose I can offer up some, generic, advice on how to make yourself more attractive to a modern woman. However, if she turns you down, I want your word to let it go.”
“You have it,” he affirmed quickly.
Sigh. “Alright. No time like the present, I guess.”
I won’t bore you with the next hour and a half. Paul tried very hard and our breakthrough of the evening was his ability to construct a sentence using modern English.
He departed before dinner, promising to be diligent in his employment of his new found mastery of the language, as well as few pointed tips about dress and mode of transportation.
The final point of drama for me occurred as I was preparing to leave for dinner myself. Before I could finish gathering my purse to depart, the door opened to reveal Mary helping a despondent Juanita who was weeping openly. “What happened?” I cried as I helped them both in and got Juanita to the bed.
My question brought Juanita to a new low of sorrow as her wails increased. Mary hugged her friend a little tighter and discretely slipped me a small slip of yellow paper bearing Western Union logos.
Call home at once. There has been an accident. Plane tickets on way.
Mary looked up from consoling Juanita, her eyes full of pain. “Juanita’s great uncle Diego fell off a ladder,” she mouthed at me, hesitant to risk making her friend even more miserable.
“Is he…?” I mouthed back to Mary’s nod.
“Juanita, I know you hurt, love, we’re here for you,” Mary told her, hugging her even tighter.
“I didn’t tell him good bye,” she wailed around her sorrow. “I…I was running late and I didn’t tell him good bye!” I sat down on Juanita’s other side and hugged her feeling some tears filling my own eyes. “Now I can’t!”
High on my list of things to do tonight was to call my parents and tell them I love them. “How can we help, Juanita?” I murmured into her shoulder as we held her.
“I…sniff…I can’t go alone…” she trailed off.
“Juanita…I would…” Mary started. “I don’t have the money…”
“It’s done,” I told her firmly. Two birds, one stone, I thought to myself as I got my phone out of my purse and speed dialed Mom’s phone.
It got a little sloppy from there, and we ended up both missing dinner and going through a full box of Kleenex, but my mom knows how much I love her and Mary and Juanita left for the airport together, a ticket paid for out of S.T.A.R. League’s petty cash fund waiting on her.
Saturday, November 18th, 2006
After a breakfast that, I’ll admit, I went a little over board on, I skipped dinner after all, I was back in my room, getting ready. Today was a big day, my first real date. Oh sure, Hank and I had been hanging out a lot around campus and we’d done a number of things here, but it was school.
This was to be out in public, away from school.
That gave it a much greater sense of ‘true’ date. I’d fretted over my choice of clothing pretty much from seeing Mary and Juanita off all the way to bed. It had started back up upon my awakening this morning. Of course, my uniform was a given; even if the ‘rents had been lying through their teeth about ‘suppressing’ my powers, I had agreed to the deal.
Besides, them knowing where I was wasn’t necessarily a bad thing these days.
That being said, I’d settled on my first choice of clothing for my first ‘evening’ with Hank; my bell bottomed jeans, my favorite white sweater and, on Mary’s advice, my costume thigh high boots worn under the jeans. I have to admit, she’s right about them. I do feel sexier wearing them.
My leather jacket laid out on the bed in preparation of departure, I worked my pony tail through the gap in my favorite Red Sox cap which suddenly flashed an inspiration. I opened my laptop on the desk and began typing furiously in a diverse stream of consciousness mix of topics, rules, handicaps, league standings, facility needed; it all flowed out as fast as I could type it.
Time marched on without my ability to track it before I was interrupted by a knock at my door. Thinking it was Hank, arriving for our date, I called out, “Come in, sweetie.”
The door opened and a droll, female voice said, “Thanks, sweetie.” I spun to be greeted with the sight of the object of Paul’s desires herself, Nikki ‘Fey’ Reilly. The face of Whateley Academy, or at least its recruitment brochures, stood framed in the doorway, her arms around herself as if bracing for something. Her entire body language was wrapped up in a defensive posture that I wondered about.
I hit save and closed the laptop.
What ever she was on guard for probably wasn’t going to be quick or simple. “Won’t you come in?” I asked her in the most neutral tone I could manage. She regally floated midpoint into the room and turned to face me, still keeping her arms around herself. Hmmm. I reached around on my wheeled chair to the small dorm fridge Mary and I shared and opened it. “Pop?”
“No, thank you,” she replied, becoming ever so slightly more comfortable. I fetched a grape for myself and cracked it open with a hiss of escaping pressure. “Do…do you have a few minutes?”
I checked the clock by the door; still nearly an hour before the shuttle to Berlin. “I’ve got some time, sure. Have a seat.” She rather daintily removed Mary’s chair and slid into it, one hand soothing the skirt she wasn’t wearing as she did so. “What’s up?”
She licked her lips to take a moment to gather her thoughts before proceeding with more confidence than I was expecting given her body language so far. “I would like to discuss your intentions with Hank,” she told me in a very matter of fact manner.
That made me blink, to be honest. “I certainly don’t mean to be rude, but what business is it of yours?”
She squirmed ever so slightly before meeting me in the eye again. “Hank is a good friend of mine, someone I trust my life with. I owe it to him to look out for him. I don’t really know you and, outside of Mary, and the group you came to school with, you don’t really socialize with anyone. I don’t want to see Hank hurt or trifled with.”
Her rather sharp chin rose, daring me to find fault with her logic; which, honestly, I didn’t. Looking out for a good friend was something I could very much get behind. “I can’t say as I have intentions towards Hank, other than finding out what his intentions towards me are. We get along and I like him, and our…complicated pasts don’t bother each other.”
“So, you are an MTF, then?”
“No…I didn’t say that. What I said was we have complicated pasts. What I will say is I’m not out to screw up Hank and I don’t think he’s out for that with me. We’re dating and I’m content to let things proceed at their own pace.” She considered that for a moment, rather odd changes of expression flashing across her face as if she was having an argument with someone.
Once her face had settled into the friendliest expression I’d seen it thus far and smiled I began to relax for a bit. “This isn’t really how I envisioned this conversation taking place. Sorry I came in with the deflector screens up.”
A sip of pop and shrug of the shoulders continued the steady pace back to DEFCON 4. “I don’t suppose I’ve been here long enough to establish any kind of rep about things, but I promise I very rarely fly off the handle. Hey, if our situation was reversed, I’d probably be having this chat with you. You being the super model and all, I’d be worried about him.”
Mutual worry about a friend became a tenuous bond of friendship between us. She laughed, and while it shouldn’t have looked so natural on her given her first impression, my own reaction was one of, well of course, this is the way she is. “I guess I sort of jumped a lot of guns. I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings or anything?”
“If I said yes, would it make a difference?” I asked her with a wink. Her chuckle continued as she shook her head. “Well, no then. Although, you seemed so…tense when you first came in. What are people saying about me that got you so nervous?”
“Oh, that,” she said, starting to wave it off, then some errant thought crossed her mind that she paused to consider. “I really hadn’t talked with anyone about you,” she reassured me. “It was more worry of… You know, this is rather refreshing, come to think of it!”
“Talking?” I asked in confusion.
“Well, yes, just talking. Been a while for me,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “The super model thing isn’t as cool as they make it out to be in Cosmo. Either people won’t talk with me, or, well, they’re falling all over themselves to be the next boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever.”
Ah, the trials of being good looking and popular I guess. “Since you’re here, and don’t get to talk much, I’ve just been futzing with an idea I’d like to bounce off you, if you’ve got a minute?”
“Well, it just struck me as rather odd that we’re at a High School with no sports of any kind. Yes, I know there’s the secret ID thing to worry about, but everybody here is a mutant in one way, shape or form, so, no big deal. It seemed like a good idea to me to organize a Co-Ed inter-cottage Soft Ball league. Every Cottage could field one or two teams, the devisors could figure out some way to handicap the more extreme players so things were more or less even. It would teach teamwork, be good physical exercise that doesn’t involve mobs or fighting the Army and be a good morale booster.”
Nikki brightened at once as she leaned forward earnestly. “Hey, that’s not bad. The school is always looking to increase mutant-normal relations. Maybe this would be the way to do it? Have you talked with anyone about it?” I shook my head.
“Just you,” I replied. “I was going to work up a proposal, see if I could get anyone else behind it, and hit up Mrs. Horton. See what she thinks.”
“You’d need more juice than Mrs. Horton,” she said thoughtfully. “Something as big as this, I’d hit up Mrs. Carson. From what Hank tells me, you have some access to her after your little tit for tat with the Master Minds.”
“My guys aren’t the only one’s tangling with them,” I replied. “But if you think it’s a good idea, why don’t we go together?”
“On one condition, I get to play short stop!” Before the point could be either conceded or argued, we were interrupted by another knock at my door.
“In!” I called, turning towards it. It opened to reveal Hank’s broad form, encased in Cthulhu Tequila: The Worm Eats YOU! Tee shirt under his own leather bomber. “Hey you,” I exclaimed, very much pleased to see him.
“Hey…” he started, then stopped short, catching sight of Nikki. “Hey, Nikki,” he managed after the bump of his start. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, girl talk,” she intimated with a smug grin. “I hear you two have a date this morning?”
“We’re headed to Berlin. Take in a show, maybe some shopping or something.”
“Sounds like fun,” she said, rising from the chair. Hanks eyes asked permission and, carpe diem they say, I nodded back.
“Why don’t you come along?” he started up again. “Do you some good to get out of here for a while.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to be a fifth wheel,” she protested.
“We could make it a double date,” I interjected smoothly. “I know of just the young man to ask you out, too.”
“Who on this short notice…?” she started, before her eyes went wide with alarm. “Oh no! Not Stalwart! I heard about him coming back to your room yesterday! That’s why I wanted to know… well, you know. But you don’t know how bad…”
“You do kind of owe him pretty big, Nikki,” Hank interrupted her. “Ok, so he’s a little over board with the whole knight in shining armor bit, but hey, we’re all a little over the top, here. Cut him some slack.”
Her eyes darted back and forth between us, narrowing. “Did you two plan this..?” she demanded with mock outrage. I smiled sweetly while Hank put up a Scouts’ Honor salute. Nikki’s good humor returned as she shook her head ruefully. “It’s not that he’s a bad guy or anything, and I do sort of owe him for stepping in, even though I didn’t need the help.”
“If there is a boy on this campus you can trust to be a perfect gentleman on a first date, it’s Paul Cambridge,” Hank reasoned with her.
“Well, we don’t know if he’s even available…” she started weakly. I grabbed my purse and pulled on my jacket before ushering the two of them out of my room.
“Trust me, he’ll be available.”
Do I really need to say whether Paul was available or not? I didn’t think so.
Scenic Berlin was 15 miles or so down state highway 16 and was everything Dunwich wasn’t; which was one of its chief virtues. It, of course, had the historic town square with its minute man standing perpetual vigil flanked by artillery pieces of disparate eras.
What made it cool was that fact the twenty first century had actually arrived in Berlin.
There was at least one example of every fast food franchise currently on the market, a theater that ran movies actually made this century, even a Wal-Mart! Well, ok the Wal-Mart was actually in Gorham but that was still close enough to get to. Berlin was proof time was moving and was a welcome respite from the ‘picturesque’ environs of Dunwich and the Academy.
And, while it was understood the students were to keep a low profile in Berlin, the odd person flying overhead in spandex was not cause to for the local wives to form an angry mob. We were a secret, but a very open one.
Let me tell you, it was nice to see new cars, the Golden Arches and passers by who didn’t look like they’d stepped out of American Gothic.
At the southern end of town, along Highway 16 and facing the Androscoggin River the AMC company had erected a brand new twenty screen movie palace that was the envy of every town for sixty odd miles. Not only did they have the Lady Lightning movie; they had three prints of it!
Fortunately there was a show starting within several minutes of our arrival at the ticket window. A small fortune in tickets, drinks and popcorn later and we were all in our seats watching previews of the coming offerings from Hollywood. Nothing looked particularly interesting if you asked me, but then I wasn’t exactly there for the show.
My seat mate was my primary attraction and I was pleased as punch the armrests of the seats rose up to make a pseudo-love seat between us. Nikki sat on my left and a very flustered Paul took up the next seat. Hank had his arm around my shoulders by the time the production and distribution companies’ logos were out of the way while Paul was looking more than a little dejected with his hands in his lap.
Nikki’s attention was rather firmly on the opening animations of the cast listing.
Paul cast me a forlorn glance as the screen brightened to reveal a high-tension power line out in the middle of a lonely stretch of wilderness, the camera slowly getting closer in a helicopter shot to a figure clinging to it. “Thunderbolt;” began the melodic intonation of Terri Hatcher. “What a great superhero name. I'm so glad that it wasn't in use at the time. There's an unwritten rule that you can't use a name that another superhero has used until they've been out of circulation for at least ten years. Even then, there are some names that you just don't use- if you went around calling yourself Superman, or Batman, or Captain Marvel, you'd have a small army of lawyers from the comic book companies making your life miserable. Lawyers-Gah! Give me a nice alien invasion any day!”
With my eyes I tried to give him directions, but Cyrano De-Bergerac, I’m not. So, for the first half of the movie, Paul played the perfect gentleman, hands dutifully in his lap when he wasn’t taking a drink or munching popcorn.
At least he offered for Nikki, and by the time She-Devil was mixing it up with Lady Lightening in the Refinery the two were actually smiling at each other. I’m not sure how Helena Bonham Carter felt about it, but the decision to over dub her dialogue with one of the immortal Gabor sisters was pretty clever.
Once Maxine and the very convincing Justicar, as played by Bill Pullman were sharing their first heartfelt kiss on the top of the suspension bridge I was getting a little desperate for him. I started getting a little animated in my gestures, prompting Hank to whisper, “What are you doing?”
I about jumped a foot in surprise. “Trying to help Paul,” I whispered back. Nikki gave me an odd look so the film became intensely interesting for a moment before she turned back to it. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Hank puzzle out my meaning before comprehension dawned on him.
He withdrew his arm, made a point of catching Paul’s eye, then yawned and returned it around my shoulders. I could see the indecision on his face as he finally understood so I leaned into Hank and stared a hole or two into Paul to emphasis my point.
Boy, the bullets he was sweating would have made the NRA happy. He finally worked up the courage, made a huge production of the yawn and settled his arm around the back of Nikki’s chair. “It’s not that bad,” admonished Nikki softly. “There’ll be more explosions soon, just wait.”
He nearly snatched his hand back to stammer out how emotionally touching the scene was causing me to pin it in place with a hasty force field. “Sssh!” someone behind us hissed.
It was nearly five minutes before I let the force field drop, but Nikki’s only reaction to the presence of Paul’s arm was to make herself more comfortable in the chair by leaning up against him subconsciously. Paul beamed at me before I gestured softly for him to enjoy the moment and turned back to Hank, flush with victory.
And, as I did, he leaned down and kissed me!
From that moment, honestly, it’s a little fuzzy. Don’t ask me how the movie ended, I don’t remember.
“I still say Catherine Zeta Jones would have made a better Lady Lightening!” Jackie Warwick proclaimed as we were making our way back to the shuttle point. We’d met up with a number of the other students outside the theater and were discussing the film as we meandered back to the shuttle pick up point. “Terri Hatcher is too Lois Lane.”
In every crowd of a superhero movie, there’s always at least one fan. “Terri did a fine job,” Hank countered. It’s not easy playing a man who’s turning into a woman when you’re a woman in the first place after all.”
Jackie’s retort was drown out by a cry of panic as the small crowd in front of us began to disperse in the manner crowd’s do when they’re on their way to panic. From them sailed a hulking brute of a boy who slammed into a nearby light pole that bent with the force of his impact. “Who, the fuck, do you think you are?” shouted another voice.
Standing by the bus stop was another boy a dark aura of power beginning to take form around his features. The aura solidified into a set of robes in a Grim Reaper motif, down to the scythe that gave him his name. “I’ll tear you limb from limb!” he shouted.
Never a dull moment around here, I tell you.
The other boy, who I soon realized went by the moniker of Strongarm, pulled himself from the remnants of the light pole with an obvious relish of the coming mayhem. “You want a lesson in pain; you’ve come to the right spot, Scythe!” Strongarm fired back.
“There goes our afternoon,” Fey remarked before she announced a series of heavy sounding words that, for some reason, I can’t remember. I looked down to find myself wearing only my S.T.A.R. League uniform, complete I realized, to my mask. Beside me, Lancer was encased by his black body stocking, it’s school crest notable by it’s absence. Even Jackie wasn’t immune as she really had her fan on in her outfit that was a near duplicate of Lady Lightning’s.
“Magic does have its advantages,” Nikki told me with a wink. “Stalwart and I will handle the collateral damage if you can put the collar on these two idiots, Miss Campus Cop.”
“I’m on vacation!” I protested even as my flight lifted me up to get a bit of advantage on the battlefield the street below had become.
“Stand back, citizens!” Jackie shouted out. “Lady Lightening is on the job!”
I suppose it’s never too early to be thinking about the cover story so I’ll give Jackie props for being first off the mark there. The panic calmed down to confusion as the passersby began to pull back to watch the publicity stunt from a safe distance. While Jackie put her corona into over drive for the crowd, I got between Scythe and Strongarm. “That’s enough, boys!” I called out, trying to get them to come back to their senses. Though my attempts at diplomacy were a bit wasted.
“Mind your own business!” snarled Strongarm as he snatched up the bench by the stop and hurled it at me. A bubble caught it and returned it to its place while a second hurled itself into his face.
“That doesn’t belong to you,” I told him as he staggered back from the force of the impact.
Scythe swung with all his might, intending to give me a haircut I didn’t ask for, but he hadn’t seen Lancer flanking him. Hank grabbed it and used its leverage to pull Scythe off balance, face first into the sidewalk. “I know you weren’t thinking of touching my girl, were you?” he growled as he gave Scythe a pretty firm kick to the side to add emphasis to his objection.
Electrode arced a pretty high voltage ‘fence’ around us, pulling the wattage from the power lines over head and arcing it across handy metal objects to make her point. “Cease and desist, villains!” she cried, cape dramatically billowing in the wind.
“Cease and desist?” I asked her, more than a touch amused.
“Hey, it’s showbiz!” she replied as Strongarm had finally regained his footing and leapt at me.
“That makes it all better?” I demanded; one hand outstretched to encase the attacking Ultra-Violent in one of my stronger force fields. Turning back to Strongarm, I set my face into a frown. “You are so under arrest, Strongarm. You want to add resisting to the laundry list?”
Strongarm beat at the bubble for a moment until he realized it wasn’t going to give. He crossed his arms and sullenly refused to look at me. Jackie flew down and collected Scythe and with a pair of my handcuffs, made a show of fitting him for new bracelets to the applause of the crowd.
“Lady Lightening is now showing at AMC’s Riverfront Twenty!” she announced to the crowd. “Enjoy the show!” I fished out a smoke pellet from my utility belt and tossed it to the ground. Once we were all obscured, I encased us in a second bubble and made certain we wouldn’t be seen. Looks like we’d be taking the fast return to the school.
“Detention is not normally a paying career, Mr. Lakeson,” Mrs. Carson fumed at the two Ultras, the fight now well and truly out of them. “So, let’s try a different tactic. You and Mr. Alamonte are confined to the school grounds for the remainder of the year. No passes, no weekends, just class work, meals and study. Perhaps that will let you get both of you into a scholastic frame of mind. The next step from here is expulsion, gentlemen. I advise you to consider strongly your actions for the remainder of the school year.”
Boy was I glad not to be on the receiving end of that stare! Scythe and Strongarm muttered their apologies in muted tones. “That will be all,” she finally decreed, giving them both leave to quickly vacate her office. They did so in short order. After a moment of collecting herself, Mrs. Carson finally turned to us. “That was very quick thinking playing the entire matter off as a publicity stunt, Miss Warwick. I’m very proud of you.”
Jackie glowed, literally. She’d soaked up quite a bit of juice from the power lines and had re-absorbed it when she took down her electromagnetic fence. “Thanks, Mrs. C.”
The administrator rolled her eyes at the euphemism, but let it slide. “I would like to thank all of you in your assistance of Wall Flower in her duty to put a stop to this. Your actions were restrained, mindful of the general public and in good keeping with the regulations of the school. Well done. That will be all.”
I let the others file out before me, lingering myself at the significant glances Nikki gave me. She was right, no time like the present. “Was there something else, Miss Turner?” Mrs. Carson asked me.
“Well, yes, ma’am,” I said, making sure the door was closed. “I had an idea earlier today, and maybe now isn’t the best time, but it might be a good way to improve team work, give the school a profit center and improve mutant-normal relations.”
Mrs. Carson’s perfectly sculpted eyebrows ascended her forehead. “Really? And what is this miracle you’ve come down from on high to present the Board of Regents?” she asked with a smile.
“Inter-cottage softball,” I replied. “Each cottage would field a team or two, there’d have to be either a handicap system, or some kind of mechanical way to level the playing field. But, the teams would teach us how to work together in a larger group, be non-violent for the most part and the school could sell tickets to generate some extra revenue.”
“Interesting,” she mused after a long moment. “I’m not entirely sanguine on selling tickets, but the idea has a great deal of merit. You would require at least one field I’m guessing; though we do have some green space we could convert. Miss Turner, I would like you to write up a formal proposal of this idea. Make the case for both selling tickets as well as not. Take as much time as you need, but I remind you the Board meets just after Thanksgiving.”
“Yes, ma’am.” So much for my weekend.
The computations that Dr. Quintain had given me were starting to give me a headache. It was this difficult to grasp jumble of tons of TNT and Joules of energy, what ever those were, and numbers with so many zeroes behind them they were being held by place holders called ‘powers’. “So,” I told myself, “each projectile has an impact velocity of 6,946,000 Joules. Times five, but that’s just a big number and I don’t have any idea what a Joule is!”
To be completely honest, I was welcoming any distraction at that point so the faintest of knocks on the door was a relief. “Come in,” I called, scratching out this final number on my pad of notes.
That brought my eyes up in confusion. I knew that Jade was a member of Team Kimba, and while I shared a class or two with her, the young girl was so shy I’d barely gotten her name out of her. She was very cute the way that her shyness played hand in glove with the strong Asian lines of her face and eyes. Just now, she looked even more shy than normal. “Sorry, she’s not in just now,” I told her which intensified that ‘deer in the headlights’ look on her face. “Hi, Jade, what’s up?”
“Uh, do you know when Mary’s going to be back?” she asked in her soft, eager to not draw attention to herself tone of voice.
“Not until next Thursday I’m afraid. Juanita, you know Juanita?” Her head jerked in a nod that began to get me concerned about her mental state. Still, maintaining a normal tone of voice and conversation might be just the thing she needed at the moment. “Big friend of Mary’s anyway. Juanita’s great uncle passed away and Mary went to the funeral to give Juanita some company. Tough time I guess, but that’s Mary for you.”
“Both of them?” she squeaked in a panic. “Until Thursday?” I watched her stumble to the floor and fall back against the door. You didn’t need to be Dr. Bellows to know this girl was in a bad place.
“Hey, what’s the matter?”
“But, she was just here! I saw her at the dance, and now I need an invitation to the hot tub party next Tuesday.”
Was that what this was about? Mary had been going on and on and on about that stupid party for almost a month. The girls she’d see there, ‘finally’ being accepted into the Sisterhood of the Upper Class Dykes etc. etc. While I tried to be happy for her and it was obviously something she was looking forward to a great deal, hearing about it had gotten old very quickly. “What for?” I asked her a bit peevishly. “You know those parties are just a big excuse to match girls up with each other, right? Aren’t you a little young for that?”
Her nod had a guilty quality to it that made me think she was under the impression that I’d ‘caught’ her in something. “It was a dare,” she admitted finally. Quickly adding, “A couple of obnoxious girls down the hall from you; Naomi and Julia I think.”
“Yeah, I know them.” Indeed, knew too much of them. They were the polar opposites of Mary and Juanita; as judgmental and condescending as my roommate was understanding and accepting. It had nearly taken a fistfight to convince them I was neither interested, nor a T-girl in the strictest of senses.
“They were with Sharisha, this jerk from my floor and they were saying the most horrible stuff about me and they dared me to prove I was a real girl…” she faded into silence as if finally realizing she’d been tricked into doing what they wanted.
Still, I could hope I was wrong so I asked, “You didn’t fall for it, did you?” Her silence did her confessing for her, bringing a sigh from me. “You aren’t really that desperate, are you? Besides, aren’t you too young for the hot tub?”
“They said they were going to expose me!” she almost shouted.
“So you’re going to expose yourself to prove them wrong?” I couldn’t help but ask. If this weren’t such a deadly serious matter, as High School life goes, the look of confusion on her face would have been funny. “Look, I’ve been here for a while now. I see you almost every day in the showers. The girl’s showers, after we do Martial Arts and Powers Lab? Sure, you’re even more underdeveloped than me, which is saying something, it’s pretty obvious that you’re a girl. So what’s the big deal?”
She wouldn’t meet my eyes and even with me straining, I couldn’t make out what she mumbled. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that?”
Her fear was starting to turn to anger, which honestly was confusing given the situation. She hissed, “I said I’m faking it, alright? I’ve got this stupid boy’s body! I use my telekinesis to…sort of pull and stretch and stuff, so you can’t tell in the showers.”
I shook my head, a little violently to emphasis my sympathy, nearly getting a mouthful of pony tail for my trouble. “No, no, no,” I told her as evenly as I could. “Even if I believed that, which is pretty far fetched, I’ve seen you touching Mary; and we both know how she breaks out in hives whenever she touches a guy.”
Her nose was threatening to run off her face so I got a box of Kleenex from my desk and hesitantly brought it over. She blew her nose with such force the sound of it echoed in the small dorm room. “Mary reacts to the soul, not the body!” she wailed, pitifully close to despair. “I’m a girl! Mary proves that! But I’m stuck with this stupid boy’s body!”
I couldn’t take seeing her on the floor, back against the door and looking so miserable any more. I helped her up to her feet and walked her over to my bed where we both sat back down. “Really? Hank has never mentioned any of this. Although, maybe a couple of things he has said do make a little more sense now. “But, how is this even possible?”
She forced a smile, probably the first I’d seen her wear, which was a pity. It made her very pretty. “I guess I have to tell you my whole life story, huh?”
I shared her smile in hopes the conversation had taken a better turn. “Might as well after what you’ve told me so far.” She nodded thoughtfully for a moment to organize her thoughts.
“Well, I’ve been trying different treatments. You know about exemplars and the Body Image Template?”
“Yes, unfortunately I’ve been finding out all about that.”
“Well, they think I’m an exemplar one, which means I’ve got a BIT, but none of the real advantages…”
She kept talking about ‘neural body identity’ and ‘genetic exemplar expression’ and while a lot of it was honestly over my head, what I did get seemed to be spelling out my worst fears in bright, bold red ink. For a moment, I could almost feel the little ‘thing’ growing. Finally, I couldn’t keep in my shock and horror. “Oh my God, is this what I have to look forward to?”
“What are you talking about?” she asked when I realized I’d spoken my thought aloud. I managed the most sheepish expression I could.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. It’s just, that’s why I’m here in Poe. My mom is an exemplar, and did the male-to-female thing here, before she married Dad. Like some of your friends, I guess. Lucky me, when I was born, I got to have both sets of ‘bits’ you know? They cut away my…” and I couldn’t resist the shudder to lay claim to it in words, “penis. I don’t know; some kind of surgery because after all the tests they ran they decided I was more girl than boy. Only, Mom’s afraid that since I’m now an active exemplar the…it…might start growing back.”
When I could finally look at her again her hands were at her mouth in horror every bit as repulsive as mine. “Oh no! And you’re a girl!” she protested. You’ve got to be, if you’re rooming with Angel. What are you going to do?”
I forced a shrug that looked, I hoped, like it was no big deal. “Like I told the ‘rents, they cut it off once they can do it again.”
She cringed and her knees flexed closer together from reflex. It passed quickly and she brightened at once. “Wait! Let me tell you about this experimental procedure that I’m going to be testing…”
“Jade, you should never use the phrases ‘experimental procedure’ and ‘I’ll be testing’ in the same sentence,” I warned her ominously. We shared a giggle for a moment before she launched into this highly technical account of something called a BIT-slicer. If I follow it right, this gizmo can copy the BIT from one exemplar and implant over another. Theoretically, I supposed, you could have something as simple as hair or eye color to as deep as genetic copies of the donor with lots of little levels in between.
To say it sounded extraordinarily dangerous was a laughable understatement. She continued on happily unaware of my reservations, however, “…so, if everything works out, I’ll be a real girl by Monday, and I could go to the party on Tuesday and Sharisha couldn’t say a thing!”
Wistful hope, thy name is Little Girl. “Okay,” I drawled out. “Sounds like a lot of chicken eggs in one basket to me. Not to mention dangerous as all get out! Not that I’m the poster girl for looking before leaping, but I mean, Jade, we’re talking about your body! Sure, I’m interested in whether or not this gizmo works. Lord, I just might need it myself! Just promise me you’ll have some teacher look into it before you climb in.”
She nodded that little girl, ‘I’ll make the gestures you’re looking for but not follow through’ nod. Nothing else I could really do for her, except… “Look, I still think this hot tub party is a really bad idea. I mean, really spectacularly bad. Are you still insistent on it?”
The tears welled up in her eyes. “I promised…”
“Like I want to be ogled by a bunch of lesbians,” I muttered as much under my breath as I could. That, of course, required the rueful addition, “as if there was all that much to ogle. Alright, here’s the deal. I’ll go to the little strip-soak and take you as my guest…”
For a moment I thought she might burst with excitement. “Really?”
“…But, you have to do me a major favor. No, I don’t mean keeping me informed on the BIT gizmo. We’re friends, right? You’d do that anyway, seeing as we know each other’s deepest fears, right?
“What do you want?” she asked, nodding so hard I was a little worried her head might fly off. “Personal servant or laundry duty taken care of? Maybe bathroom clean up?”
I really couldn’t resist teasing her just a little. “Oh no, lot’s bigger than that.” I savored her mope-y expression for a moment before plowing ahead. “It’s just that, you guys seem to get all the cool trips. Like Boston? I could have skinned Hank when he told me after he got back. I’m not exactly one of the Kimbettes, and sure I like hanging around with my buds. I don’t want to give any of that up, but…”
Her face lit up once more in her fascinating yo-yo between despair and exuberance. She took my hand and squeezed it. “You don’t want to be tied down to our team, but you want to be able to come along if we have a cool trip or something, right?”
I rather hoped I wasn’t being a heel, but it would be nice to get out and about for a little while. I became worried I was taking advantage of the young girl’s predicament as I stared at the floor and tried to organize my thoughts. “Well, it would probably be too much trouble. I mean, I’m a sophomore and everything, and you guys probably wouldn’t want me…” I was caught off guard as she threw her arms around me and squeezed with all her might.
“I’ll do my best! I promise! Of course we want you along!”
“You don’t think I’d be in the way, what with all the super-models and the beautiful girls?” Forgive me the snide comment, but it’s hard not to be jealous of a T Girl freshman who’s becoming the poster girl of Whateley Academy.
She leaned back and stared at me, giving me a fair approximation of the calculating glance Mrs. Carson had ‘sized me up’ with on my first day. “Are you kidding?” she wanted to know finally. “You’ll be the cutest one there!”
That brought a snort of laughter. “I guess I can live with cute.”
She was back all over me again, squeezing. I was beginning to wonder what strange attraction I seemed to have to lesbians and pseudo-lesbians. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
“Well, I guess it’s worth it. So how did I get talked into skinny dipping with lesbians when neither of us actually wants it?”
Sunday, November 19, 2006
My thoughts were a chaotic jumble Sunday afternoon as I made my way to Crystal Hall. Between promising to help Jade get to Hot Tub party last night, my stirring date and kiss with Hank yesterday to add together with everything else I had on my plate just now it was a little difficult to concentrate to be honest.
As I was becoming accustomed to, being in my S.T.A.R. League uniform ordered my thoughts and gave me the illusion of being confident. Of course, it would be nice not to have to pad my bra to at least ‘fit in’ on campus, but you take the good with the bad I suppose. In any event, I arrived at Crystal Hall where I got my first real disappointment of the day; Pendragon’s costume.
You may recall I was looking forward to seeing the young Adonis in spandex. Unfortunately, Arthur took his ‘Arthurian’ theme a bit seriously and so his uniform was gold chivalric plate armor. While he wasn’t wearing a helmet, the rest of him was encased in steel which was a real shame.
With him was the rest of the Future Super Heroes of America, gathered around their table in the cafeteria. At his right hand was the heir apparent of the FSA, Iron Star. Bobby Hastings was every bit the hero in training, a long, rectangular face complimented by a lantern jaw and an honest ruggedness about his features was framed by a shaggy page boy hair cut of Brad Pitt blond. His most startling feature was his greenish gold eyes that earnestly followed the points Arthur was making. His own costume was a mirror of Pendragon’s, chivalric plate mail in a highly polished silver as opposed to Pendragon’s gold. Unlike Arthur, Bobby wore a silver domino mask that played up the odd color of his eyes.
At Arthur’s left was his very own Merlin, in this case Nigel ‘Mr. Mystic’ Pennyworth. Nigel had a somewhat shorter take on the Gandalf look that his not quite six foot frame wore rather well. Unlike the other boys of the team, Nigel looked the ‘wizard’ part with a thin, scholarly frame that the grey belted long tunic worked with him on. His brightly silver hair hung loose to his shoulders, playing up the matching Fu Manchu beard he wore that was quite long as well. His electric blue eyes caught mine as I approached before he turned back to the conversation at hand.
The girls of the team were all sitting at the clubs’ table, obviously having their own conversation. The queen of this social circle was, undoubtedly, Gloria Everett a long, regal blonde with svelte curves and the easy grace of someone who was beautiful, knew she was beautiful, and didn’t let that keep her from being a nice person. Gloriana, as was her code name, broke the group’s Arthurian mold by wearing a fairly modest skin tight jumper that had a motif of rays of light and geometric designs roughly analogous to a Salvador Dali painting.
Talking earnestly with her was Amy Tang, an oval faced Asian American girl whose NFL Cheerleader costume was done in a garish mix of red and white stripes on her rah-rah skirt with a midriff top of deep blue covered in white stars. You didn’t have to count them to know there were fifty stars, as befitted the patriotic Lady Liberty. Amy was one third of the romantic train wreck for the attentions of Iron Star. The other third sat next to her.
Steffi Zink or Magni-Girl as she went by in the electric blue and green thigh shorts and halter top combo she was wearing wore her black hair absolutely straight and long down to her waist. Hair wise, I would fit in well with this group, in fact, as mine only reached to the middle of my back, I’d have the distinction of wearing the shortest there. Her triangular face wore a kind smile that reached her deep blue eyes, but there was a hardness about her face that made me think it could also be pinched in an extremely cruel expression.
“Am I late?” I asked as I picked up my pace to arrive at the table a bit sooner. Arthur just smiled and shook his head.
“No, we’re actually still short G-Force,” he looked about, catching sight of a young Sidney Poitier clone in a midnight black body stocking that was moving purposefully in our direction. “Here he is!”
“Sorry,” he apologized in a well modulated baritone upon reaching conversational distance. “Got caught by this Debbie chick on the way here; she practically threatened me to catch an invite to the meeting.” Arthur frowned at the statement and looked about the cafeteria.
“Best we move along to the Club House anyway,” he decided after a moment of checking. “Everyone, I’ve invited Wall Flower here to sit in this afternoon, in the hopes that she’ll join our ranks.”
“Welcome,” beamed Gloria instantly with a kind smile my way.
“Thanks,” I stuttered, a tad embarrassed about being the focus of all these upper classmen, costume or no. “You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little out of sorts; I normally hang with a pretty tight bunch.”
“Yes, I know,” replied Arthur. “We did invite all of them.”
“Ashley told me she had some kind of appointment with her room mate, Cathy, who is busy currying favor with the Don,” Gloria supplied.
“I chatted up Dredz on the way here,” G-Force commented. “But he just mumbled something in Ghetto English about hitting up a freshman for a date. I think her name was Toni.”
“And Mark was worried about his Philosophy Midterm,” finished Nigel. He shrugged and smiled a lop sided smile. “You’ll have to do.”
“Follow me,” Pendragon interjected, offering his arm to Gloria who accepted it with the sardonic smile of long putting up with a good friend’s foible. From the cafeteria, Arthur lead us at a brisk walk towards the front of Schuster Hall, taking a side hallway that ran behind the main Administration offices of the building, stopping finally at a Custodial closet. “I solemnly swear that I’m up to do good,” he announced with a wink towards me as he reached up to the top of the door jam to press a concealed button.
The whir of a very quiet motor drifted through the door. “Do you have to say…?” I started, an eyebrow raised. Arthur just chuckled as he surreptitiously checked both ends of the hall.
“No,” he said as the thumb reader beside it opened the door for him. “I just thought it would be funny. Tried to get Nigel to pop the line…”
“As if,” the mage replied. “I’ll be your sidekick, Artie, but not your straight man.” As you might imagine, there wasn’t a closet awaiting us, but an elevator. We clamored in as he pulled the door shut behind us and strung a safety chain. The lift began to descend, the closet it had replaced sliding out of a cubby hole blocking sight of the door.
After a few seconds, we emerged from the shaft, revealing that the lift was actually open on three sides, hence the chain. It lowered into a spacious room that was dominated by a long, oval table with a federal eagle emblazoned across it, the letters FSA embossed on the shield that made up its body. “This is a legacy of the class of ’70,” Arthur explained as the lift came to a stop. “It’s something of a secret though, and if you decide not to join, I’d appreciate it if you kept it to yourself.”
He opened the chain and led us out into the room, bypassing the table for the moment and heading towards one of the three doors that led off the room. The door opened to his thumb, into a small museum, photographs and exhibits neatly encased in glass displays of costumes, weapons and other memorabilia of the past members. Arthur went unerringly to a photo on the middle of the far wall.
In it was a very young Robert Turner, AKA Falcon who was grinning out of the photograph wearing his old, skin tight costume. It was, of course, grey with the illusion of feathers throughout it, creeping up to completely cover his head with the exception of his strong, clean shaven chin. Over his shoulders was a very curvaceous girl I had a strong feeling was mom, though in the picture it was hard to be certain. The caption, however, settled the matter:
The early bird caught the Tabby.
“Your father,” Arthur was saying, “was a great inspiration to the FSA. He was a member all four years, serving as President his senior. If you’re interested, I can give you the breakdown of the information; pros and cons of joining.”
My eyes couldn’t seem to leave the picture as I told him, “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t interested.” I wonder if my rear would look that good over Hank’s shoulder?
“Well,” Iron Star interjected. “Why don’t we sit down and spread it out for you?” It was with a certain amount of regret that I followed their lead out of the room and back to table. As we got settled, me in one of the empty places that had no placard before it, Bobby continued. “As a member of a recognized organization of the school, you gain access to the school facility for that club.”
“This room,” chuckled Nigel, “and the other areas of the club house.”
“Not to mention a new network of friends and allies, on and off campus,” was Amy’s contribution. “Alumni of the FSA have gone on to be some of the greatest heroes in the World. It’s our duty as FSA members to be of assistance to both Alumni and current members once we have graduated.”
“Which is where a number of the equipment we have comes from,” Arthur pointed out. “While the school emphasizes survival and ‘blending in’ to the real world environment, we at the FSA are allowed more specific Hero training; patrols of the grounds, access to police and anti-terrorism databases of known villains. Things that we need to prepare ourselves for our coming careers.”
“It’s no secret that the Hero Teams from around the country recruit from the members of the FSA,” Gloria told me with a wink. “I have a complete scholarship to NYC University thanks to the ACTT Foundation for Education.” The Alliance of Counter Terrorism Taskforces was the over watch organization of the various teams and independent heroes that called New York home. Just about everyone who was anyone in the Biz down in NYC carried an ACTT card.
“More important than outside allies,” Steffi said finally in a smooth contralto, “are inside allies. We watch out for each other, no matter what. I know if someone is looking to hand me a hard time, I’ve got people I can count on to stand with me. Who also know I’ll stand with them.”
“The Don has taken an interest in you and your friends,” Nigel told me. “It could be nothing, merely his being circumspect and checking out the new arrivals, or it could be something a good bit deeper. You’ve already spent a lot of time hanging around the people who landed most of his Alpha’s in detention. Not to mention tangling with the Master Minds.”
“What my hairy friend is trying to say,” Arthur interrupted with a chuckle and a good natured clap on Nigel’s shoulder. “Is that every high school has cliques. You make enemies you don’t even know about. We think you should make some friends too.”
“Well,” I answered after a careful lick of my lips to buy me a few extra moments to collect my thoughts. “That’s a good long list of pros. How about some cons?”
An absolutely musical laugh escaped Gloria. “Well, for a start, there is the matter of our nick names. Cape Squad may be the polite one, but there are plenty of less than polite ones. There are plenty of people going to this school who don’t get what we’re about. Who can’t understand that power is a responsibility far more than it is a right or privilege. We have to make sure we live up to a fairly high set of ethics, to hold ourselves to a standard above and beyond what the school expects of us.”
Arthur nodded thoughtfully. “That makes us easy targets for those who see the world as something to be taken advantage of as opposed to served. It sounds corny, I’ll admit, but I truly believe the price of being strong is the defense of the weak. I have been honored by abilities far beyond my parents or the ‘average’ teenager. That places on me a fundamental moral choice. What do I do with this power? To me, the only answer is to help others.”
There was a silent round of nodded agreement with their leader’s speech. Perhaps not the most stirring I’d ever heard, but then Arthur still had four years of college to work on his delivery. I did have to admit that there was truth in his words, truth that challenged me.
Finally satisfied with my proposal, I made sure attaching it to the email had not corrupted it and sent it on its way to Mrs. Carson’s in box. I couldn’t be sure how my idea of the cottages playing softball with each other would be received by the school’s Head Mistress, but the tiny speck of confidence I had within me assured my worries that if she hadn’t been intrigued, she wouldn’t have requested a formal proposal.
That finished, along with the fond memory of the tour my new club mates had given me of the FSA’s ‘club house’ below Schuster Hall, ended the pleasant portions of my day. Time was getting short and there was no putting it off any longer.
Mrs. Bohn’s paper demanded my attention.
Calling up the much abused document, I decided a bit of definition was in order. The first part being understanding myself what all these physics terms meant. Joule, I typed, N A unit of work equal to .737324 foot-pounds, after J. P. Joule 1818-1889. Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Desk Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1980.
After a moment of staring, I realized finally what all those big numbers I’d been typing meant. Each of the tank rounds my force field had stopped had generated six million nine hundred forty six thousand joules of energy. By comparison, a ton of TNT generated four billion (with a B) one hundred eighty four million joules. But my force bubble had stopped five projectiles; or thirty four billion seven hundred thirty million joules of energy, the equivalent of 8 tons of TNT. A little poking on the internet told me that the bomb that had leveled Hiroshima had equaled twenty thousand tons of TNT, but Mrs. Bohn’s paper had made her point for her.
What I had blithely supposed to be a fairly safe use of my powers had not been dangerous, but fool hardy.
I sat and stared at the screen of my laptop, shaking. I should be dead, along with everyone else, to include the soldiers in the tanks. But, my subconscious whispered to me, the simulator didn’t stop. My bubble hadn’t collapsed, it had buckled for a moment, but unless Dr. Quintain had been lying about the safety cut off, and why would he? My power had stopped a percentage of the world’s first nuclear bomb. A small percentage, granted, but wow!
No wonder Dr. Quintain had been mumbling about Department of Defense grant forms!
A knock at the door interrupted my musings over my self amazement. “It’s open,” I called absentmindedly, unable to take my eyes from the black and white numbers on my screen.
“Busy?” asked Hank’s voice.
That was enough to get my eyes off it. “No,” I told him with a smile. “Never for you.” He let himself in, closed the door and walked up behind me, his hands finding their way to my shoulders he carefully kneaded.
“What’re you working on?”
It took me a second to get my mind off how wonderful his hands felt to form an answer. “Mrs. Bohn’s paper,” I whispered in a pleasure filled haze. “I stopped the force of eight tons of TNT.”
“Holy shit!” he exclaimed. “No wonder she was bent.” He laughed a low chuckle as he continued to work his spell on my shoulders. “My baby is all that!”
“That has a nice ring to it,” I murmured. “Hank, sweetie, as much as I’m enjoying that, I’m going to have to ask you to stop. I want to talk with you.” He gave my shoulders a final squeeze before reaching over to pull out Mary’s chair and plopping into it backwards.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Yesterday,” I told him after a moment of working up my courage. He winced a bit and I caught a note of fear in his eyes.
“I’m sorry if I upset you,” he said contritely.
“I’m not upset,” I assured him. “Maybe I’m over thinking this, but…” and my voice dropped off to a whisper, “…I’ve never kissed anyone before. Well, somebody who wasn’t mom or dad or family.”
“Me too,” he admitted. “Was it too soon?”
“I don’t know, but I hope not. I was just wondering how you felt about it, you know? This is a pretty big deal for me.”
He sighed deeply. “Yeah, me too. It’s been hard, even though being this way felt so right, it’s a little overwhelming. Feeling the way I do about you and having to come to grips with being attracted to a girl. I don’t know how to think or act, that make sense?”
I nodded. “It felt right, and I want it to continue,” I added quickly. “I guess I’m a little afraid of it.”
He stood and pulled me up to look up into his endless grey eyes. “Hey, we’re super heroes. What’s to be afraid of?” I started to answer but he leaned down and kissed me again, tender, but firm. The kind of kiss that says, ‘I’m here and I’m going to be here,’ and won’t let you think about anything else.
If this had been a forties movie, I’d have a foot in the air.
Now, I had in mind this long, drawn out kind of discussion about feelings and priorities like the girls in Cosmo talk about; where Hank and I talked about who we were to ourselves and each other. But with his expressive lips against mine, it didn’t matter what a magazine told me I should be doing. It didn’t matter there were more than one question mark in the gender lines for both of us, and it certainly didn’t matter that I was a year older than he was.
All that mattered was kissing him back as fiercely as he was kissing me.
Monday, November 20th, 2006
I awoke from probably the most restful sleep I’d had in some time by a firm knocking at my door. For a moment I had a bit of a panic that I was late for Flight I, but then I remembered it was all assemblies and guest speakers this week so the classes had been canceled.
I spent a second or two being annoyed at being awoken and denied my sleep in before I realized two things almost at the same second. One: that the person knocking at my door was Mrs. Horton as her lilting tenor drifted through the panel calling, “Miss Turner, if you don’t open this door, I’ll be opening it for you!”
The other was, horror of horrors that Hank was in my bed with me. Part of the reason I had slept so well last night was that we’d made out well into the evening, evidently both so comfortable that we’d succumbed to slumber together.
I, who had just pledged not twenty four hours ago to hold myself to ‘higher ethical standards’ was about to be caught with a boy in my room by the house mother herself! “Just a minute,” I called out to her with as much fake groggy as I could put into my panicked voice.
Clamping my hand over Hank’s mouth reduced his snoring and caused him to wake with a start. The frantic hand gestures I employed finally made him understand the situation as he scrambled out of the bed and stood in the corner I pointed him to. A thought wrapped him in a force field and he faded away like a pleasant dream.
That’s when I realized I was topless.
Heat of the moment well and truly gone I felt white hot embarrassment as I scrambled for a night shirt and pulled it on. I took a final moment to put my ‘sleepy’ face on and opened the door. Mrs. Horton filled the door, smiling at me. “Really, Miss Turner, do you plan to sleep the day away?”
“Sorry Mrs. Horton,” I managed around a (mostly) faked yawn. “What’s up? I thought classes were canceled today?” Her smile widened just a bit.
“They are, dear. I just have a visitor for you.” She stepped aside and my heart fell in my stomach.
My mother was behind her in the hall.
“Hello, sweetheart,” she greeted. “Thank you, Mrs. Horton,” she told our housemother, evidently an old friend.
“Think nothing of it, Tabby,” she told mom as they hugged and Mrs. Horton made her exit. Mom let herself into my room and pulled my jaw up for me.
“Don’t you read your email, Lily?” she asked at the look of amazement on my face. “I sent you word we’d be coming up nearly a week ago.”
“Sorry, it’s been hectic, mom,” I stuttered. She sniffed in disdain at my excuse, but before she could upbraid me further her expression changed to puzzlement and she sniffed again, deeper.
Then her expression changed again, this time to anger. “Lily Paige Turner, there is a boy in this room,” she hissed. And when I say hissed, I mean it; the feline canines her teeth had become caused her to hiss out certain consonants, S sounds especially.
Now there’s two ways one can deal with these kinds of issues. One can be upfront and take one’s due punishment like a grown up and learn from the experience, or one can frantically check to see if they’ve developed a teleportation power.
Nope, no such luck.
The invisibility field I had wrapped around Hank dropped under my mom’s withering gaze to reveal the object of my affection, sheepishly waving a hello in his boxers. “Uh…It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Turner,” he managed.
“Nothing happened!” I protested, drawing her ire back at me. “We just fell asleep. We were talking and…”
“Not another word,” she growled at me. Rounding to my beau, she imperiously demanded, “Name?”
“Hank Declan, ma’am,” he admitted, his newly grown Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in concern.
After a long moment of staring at him Mom relaxed ever so slightly. As much as I felt bad for Hank, knowing first hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of one of those stares, I did have one comfort for him. Mom had her contacts in. Otherwise, her already formidable stare would have been heightened by her natural yellow cat’s eyes. “Mr. Declan, I understand a bit of youthful indulgence is permitted in Poe. That being said, so long as your intentions to my only daughter remain honorable as befitting a gentleman of your years, I am willing to overlook certain…youthful…indiscretions.”
“I’d never…” started Hank before she cut him off with a raised hand.
“Should I ever learn that my daughter’s heart is broken by your hand, Mr. Declan, I shall indulge my primal instincts and see to it your remains are scattered across no less than five states. Are we clear, Mr. Declan?”
“Crystal, ma’am,” he squeaked, very much the mouse under her gaze.
“Collect your things and be gone,” she commanded. Hank bent to the task with a will and soon had an armload of clothing. As he was heading towards the door, Mom casually remarked, “Mr. Declan, what do you think will become of my daughter’s reputation if you depart her room in your underwear?” She sank into my chair and seemed to genuinely enjoy watching him get dressed under her scrutiny.
Hank was so flushed I became concerned he would pass out. Once he was suitably dressed once more, he screwed his courage to the sticking place and turned back to Mom. “Mrs. Turner, I would like to offer my most sincere apology for how this situation looks. Lily and I care a lot about each other, but nothing happened last night.”
“If I thought you had taken advantage of my daughter, Mr. Declan, you would be bleeding right now,” she all but purred. “Good morning.”
Hank nodded, caught my eye and told me, “Sorry about this,” before he made a noticeable effort to compose himself before walking out the door.
A moment of extremely awkward silence fell between us before being broken by her almost casual comment of, “Nice ass.”
“Daughter!” she purred back. “You think I wasn’t young once?” I stuttered in consternation at the odd turn the conversation had taken, but before I could properly form a sentence, she continued. “I trust, in future, you will show a bit more circumspection in your affaires du Coeur. So, tell me about him.”
To those of you scratching your heads in confusion out there, what can I tell you? Mom was just that way; mercurial temper with an equally volatile change of mood. She could be roaring mad one moment then lucid and rational with a speed that was disconcerting to say the least. In my home life, Dad had always been the stable one the even keel that kept the ship of our family on course. I had long since learned when Mom got into one of her moods to flow with it. “We’ve been dating almost two months,” I admitted plopping down on my bed.
“How many times off campus?” she wanted to know.
“Just once so far, Saturday. We went to the movies and we kissed for the first time.” That seemed to make Mom very happy. “He stopped by last night and we got to talking about what had happened and where we were going to go. I think we were both a little surprised about it. Then, somewhere in the middle of talking about kissing we got to kissing. Next thing I know Mrs. Horton is threatening to kick the door in.”
“You had this heartfelt conversation of your collective relationship in your night shirt and his boxers?” she asked, one perfectly sculpted eyebrow arching over her eye. I scratched my head sheepishly.
“I’m a little fuzzy on when that happened, to be honest,” I admitted.
She sniffed. “You put your shirt on about five minutes ago, I’d guess.” A raking glance with her critical eye preceded a hug of herself. “Lily, I’ll be honest with you, I’m doing my best not to be the kind of mother my mother was. All do as I say, not as I do. I cut quite a swath through the Academy in my day. I imagine my name might still be on a few of the bathroom stalls around here.”
That was a tidbit of my mother’s history I could do without. To be honest, it left me feeling a little queasy. She took no notice of my discomfort, or if she did notice it, she ignored it as she continued. “That being said, I would like to save you some of the heartaches I had to endure here. Hank seems like a fine young man, and he’s certainly easy on the eyes. You don’t have to try everything at the buffet to know what you like.”
“Hank and I have a lot in common,” I murmured quietly.
“He’s a changeling?” she asked, cocking her head to one side. “I wouldn’t have guessed! It must have taken a lot of courage for him to carry himself the way he did. How far along is he?”
“How should I know?” I demanded to her coy smile.
“You just slept with him, dear.” Oh, yeah, that. “The best advice I can give you, my love, is take things at your pace. Now, your father is waiting for us down stairs.”
She rolled her eyes. “If you had read the email I sent you, you would know we’re up to attend the DARPA conference and your father is giving a guest lecture this afternoon here at the school. We’re taking you to breakfast first.” She stood and fixed me with her gaze. “Lily,” she said almost softly. “Stand up.”
I did so, feeling more than a little awkward under her intense scrutiny. She seemed fixated on my bust which made me feel even less adequate, considering her own, perfect curves. “What?” I demanded a bit peevishly.
“Do you notice nothing?” she moaned. “Look at yourself. You’re bigger.”
That brought me to the mirror and the night shirt to the laundry pile on the way. Mom just shook her head, plucking the, admittedly clean garment from the bin and returning it to my bed. To my eye, nothing had really changed but she rummaged for my sewing kit to remove a tape measure.
“Thirty five,” she told me as she idly re-coiled the tape. “That’s a full inch if memory serves.” I quickly took out the bra I normally wore under my costume. With the pads in it, there was a noticeable feeling of constriction on its old settings.
I felt my heart absolutely soar at the prospect of my much delayed bust making its debut and I couldn’t help seizing her in my exuberance. “I told you nothing would happen!” I exclaimed, wondering if I’d be lucky enough to grow into something as curvy as she was.
Not satisfied, Mom taped my height as well. “Five, one,” she murmured to herself. “Interesting.”
She indulged me a bit of celebration as I quickly got dressed, visions of shopping trips for new foundational garments dancing in my head to be honest. As I was running a brush through my hair, she amused herself by looking at the calendar Mary and I shared. “Do they still do that?” she asked out loud. Drawn from the mirror I ambled over to see Mary’s circled note for Tuesday labeled, Hot Tub.
“Oh, that,” I muttered. “Yes, I guess so. Why? Did they do it when you where here?”
“A party in the Hot Tub for the lesbian girls?” she asked her voice a bit far away. “Oh, they did it, alright.”
“How did you know it was lesbians?” I demanded. She blushed in a manner that made me distinctly nervous.
“I spent my years here in Poe, if you recall, Lily,” she managed. She gathered my hair in a pony tail and tied it in place with a ribbon. “There are many things in my life that I regret, Lily, but you won’t ever be one of them.”
This conversation was getting decidedly maudlin if you asked me. Fortunately, Mom didn’t seem to be in much of a talkative mood as she led us back down stairs where Dad was having a conversation with Mrs. Horton. He caught sight of us, looking very dashing in his razor pressed Dockers and polo, gracing us with his perfect smile. “Ah, the beautiful women in my life,” he announced as Mom gave him a kiss for his compliment. “What do we like for breakfast?”
“We could just grab something at Crystal Hall,” I put forward. That seemed agreeable to everyone; though I should have known I wouldn’t get off as easy as I thought I had. As I lead the way towards Schuster Hall Mom pulled the pin on her conversation grenade.
“Robert, I do believe that our daughter would like boyfriend for breakfast,” she said with a salacious wink my way.
“What?” demanded dad.
Now, you’re probably thinking, what on Earth am I thinking? Here I have a gilded opportunity to get out and have a meal somewhere other than the school’s cafeteria where I’d eaten every meal for the last two months. Well, sure it sounds crazy; like a fox. First off, the food at Crystal Hall is actually pretty good and the selection is really top drawer, as opposed to the three, count them, three restaurants in Dunwich. Secondly, and most important, at school, in a large crowd where word could get back to the very intimidating Mrs. Carson, (whom the ‘rents have already demonstrated a marked respect for) the likelihood of yours truly getting a dressing down from the fraternal unit are far less likely.
So, a plate piled high with eggs, bacon toast and the other accouterments of breakfast later, my folks and I found a table I conspicuously chose in the center of the room. I did notice that dad’s lantern jawed face didn’t leave me, even as he reached for the sugar and started doctoring up his coffee. “Now, what’s this about a boy friend?” he demanded as he stirred lazily.
So much for my future career as a criminal mastermind.
“What’s to know?” I asked a bit defensively. “I’m sixteen, what’s wrong with me having a boyfriend?”
“Who said something was wrong with it?” he retorted after a thoughtful sip. “I just happen to have a more than passing interest in my only daughter’s life and well being. This is news to me so of course I’m interested.”
“He’s evidently a changeling,” supplied Mom from a drink of her own orange juice. “Nice ass, too.”
“Oh, you’ve met him?” Dad’s eyes took on a steelier look.
“In passing,” she murmured coyly. My temperature was definitely on the rise, and not because of the warmth of my breakfast. “I believe his name is Hank Declan,” she continued. “The details were a little scarce of course, but he’s a fine looking boy and very polite.”
“I would hope so,” rumbled Dad. “I’m looking forward to meeting him. Hopefully my daughter will find her tongue and tell me about him before I just start wandering from table to table asking students.”
“Why is this such a big deal?” I wailed, feeling the blush color my cheeks. “So I’m dating, so what?”
“She doth protest too much, methinks,” quoted Mom with an obvious relish.
“Hank is a nice guy,” I finally managed. “His code name is Lancer if you must know. He’s an exemplar and a brick. I have him in a couple of classes and he’s also in Poe. He took me to the movies Saturday and we’ve hung out a lot on campus.”
Dad digested this as he chewed a piece of bacon. “What’s his family like?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t met them and he doesn’t talk about them much. They’re in the Army or something and neither have the Power, as I understand it. He’s here on a scholarship.”
“Ah, first generation, always a tough time,” Dad said with a glance over to Mom. Mom just glared at him so he decided I was the easier target to pick on. “Does he have plans to head home for Thanksgiving?”
“No…” I started before I could censer the words.
Dad just beamed. “Well, looks like I’ll get to meet him after all. I want you to extend the invitation for Hank to spend Thanksgiving with us. I wouldn’t want the young man to have to spend the holiday by himself at school.”
“Dad…” I started, but he raised a hand, his mind obviously made up. Sigh. “Alright, I’ll ask him.”
“It’s not like I want to give the boy the third degree, Lily,” he protested. “If you are interested in him, then obviously he has a set of merits to recommend him. I just would like to know them, is all. I promise I’ll put all the rubber hoses in the closet,” he told me with what he thought a disarming smile.
The prospect of having to subject Hank to meeting the parents so soon in our relationship honestly took my appetite. I stood with my, well honestly about half eaten, tray in hand. “I gotta go,” I announced to their dismay. “I have a paper to turn in.”
“Lily…” started Dad in protest.
“I’ll ask him, Dad, I promise.” As I walked away I distinctly heard Mom’s voice in a tone that always made me wince when she used it on me.
“Nice going, Robert.”
Mrs. Bohn was in her office, as I’d expected, when I arrived, diskette with my term paper in hand. She waved me in with a smile and had me sit down as she booted it into her laptop and gave it a cursory going over.
Meanwhile, I squirmed in the seat, wondering how much worse my morning could get.
After several minutes of her reading the screen, her half glasses perched on the end of her nose, she closed the laptop and looked up at me squarely. "What have we learned, Miss Turner?” she asked in a soft voice.
I shrugged, not really able to meet her gaze. “I’m not sure what you want me to say here, Mrs. Bohn. I understand that what I did was dangerous; running around in spandex saving people is inherently dangerous. But, if I were in the same situation, I’d do the same thing again.”
“Even if the Army were sent up here to destroy the school, it’s not like Joe Soldier had anything to do with that decision. They’re just doing what they have to so they can live, just like I am. It’s not their fault they’d be fighting us anymore than it would be our fault for having to fight them. We’re not nearly as fragile as they are so it’s not right that we’ll walk away from the fight and they get taken home in a box.
“If that situation were to occur, I’d do everything in my power to stop them, but I wouldn’t let one of them die if I didn’t have to.”
She sighed deeply as she moved glasses off her nose and let them hang on the neck chain attached to them. “Lily, there are times when you will have to make a choice about who will live and die, you know that, don’t you?” I nodded, very uncomfortable about the topic of the conversation. “What I’m trying to teach you here is how to survive. Taking foolish risks is counterproductive to survival. More to the point, taking foolish risks with your teammates lives is not only counterproductive, but evil, as well an abrogation of your responsibility to the team.”
“So, you’re saying I should have made sure they were clear before I tried to save the soldiers?”
“I’m saying I want you to get into the habit of thinking through your actions as quickly as you can. It’s not necessary to know every possible outcome of a given situation. That will make you indecisive. But some part of you knew when you became invisible the tanks would fire on you. I watched the strength of your force field increase in preparation of it. You knew what was coming, but what you didn’t know was whether you could do it or not. You made a choice to put others lives above your own. That is very noble, especially as you did it for your combatants.”
She sighed again as she leaned forward to press her point. “But you didn’t give that choice to your teammates. More to the point, as General Patton pointed out, ‘No one ever won a war by dieing for their country.’ You could just as easily flown out of the way and tried to place an empty field where you’d been. Think about that in the coming weeks, won’t you?”
She stood, her good humor slightly restored as she gestured for me to rise as well. “Now, I believe you students are due in the auditorium shortly for a guest speaker. You’ll want to change.”
“Change?” I asked hesitantly.
“The guest speaker is your father,” she told me not aware that I already knew that. “You’ll be on the platform with him and the rest of the faculty. I would think you’d want to be wearing your uniform for that.”
“Students,” called Mrs. Carson, her voice magnified and given a slightly tinny distortion from the public address system. A quiet finally settled over the auditorium which brought a smile to her lovely face. “Good afternoon. While we have a great deal of information to ‘front load’ you all with this week, I thought it beneficial to invite a great alumnus of the school to speak with you this afternoon.”
The giant screen behind the stage came to life and began to play a montage of news clips of Dad in action. His humanitarian relief work with the Rangers in Somalia taking a particularly prominent role. “Falcon graduated magna cum laud with the Class of 1986,” Mrs. Carson went on. “From there he added to our school’s reputation by being the Valedictorian from Dartmouth in the Class of 1991. Not resting on his laurels, Falcon went on to a sterling career with the Minutemen in New York before returning to his wife’s hometown of Providence to found S.T.A.R. League.
“Those of you so inclined can research the exploits of S.T.A.R. League through their website or any number of New England periodicals. So, students, without further eloquence, I present Falcon.”
Dad rose to a rather stirring round of applause led enthusiastically by Pendragon who had snagged a front row seat. Dad’s costume had evolved over the years, judging by the old picture I’d seen of him in the FSA’s ‘Club House’ under Schuster Hall. And while the outfit itself had evolved, it’s color, falcon grey had always been a fixture. Currently, his still rather impressive frame was incased in the outfit, added to with a small collection of gizmos Soldier of Fortune had made for him. They were collected in a utility belt and a pair of gauntlets, which formed the anchor of his cape to his wrists, giving it a decided wing-like look.
Which was probably the idea.
“Good Morning,” he greeted the student body. “Well, as good a morning as it can be when you’re shoe horned into an auditorium to listen to some old fart talk about life.” A spattering of laughter floated through the assembly, but I did notice Arthur frowning a bit. I don’t think he much cared for Dad’s joke at his own expense.
“Today I’d like to speak with you a bit about Responsibility. Specifically, I’d like to talk about Mutant Responsibilities to the normal population. Some of you are doubtlessly scratching your heads a bit at my chosen topic. After all, we’ve been blessed, or cursed as some of you probably feel, with these powers and abilities. What do we owe anyone over our lot in life?
“While legally, the answer to that question is nothing, it’s not the right answer. When you graduate at some point, you’re not required to don a color coordinated set of gloves and boots and give yourself to some cause at the expense of your personal life. So, what responsibilities am I talking about? I’m talking about ethical responsibilities.
“It is every human being’s ethical responsibility to try and make the world around him or her a better place. Those of us with these above average abilities and powers shoulder a larger burden than our so-called normal citizens. I can feel the disbelief some of you probably feel right now. The do-gooder is going to preach about the high road, you’re asking yourselves. How long is this speech?
“Well, not that long for the relief of all of you. More to the point, I’m not advocating every one take the hero path. Once upon a time, I could be known to espouse that option to anyone who would listen. And while I still hold to the validity of it, in my old age, I realize the path I’ve trodden won’t work for everyone. Fair enough.
I was honestly a bit shocked at this particular turn of Dad’s usually easy to predict ethical code. “Some of you have no greater ambition than to graduate and disappear back into the fold of anonymity. But don’t forget that some of the greatest events in human history have been attributed to unknowns. We all wear masks, whether we’re heroes or villains or a working man trying to take care of his family. The mask doesn’t define us; we define the mask.
“To the would-be world conquerors in the crowd, let me ask you this. What will make your conquest different from any other through out history? What will separate you from the half-baked attempts that have come before you and will come after you’re gone? History is rife with dictators that dominate for their own good. And let’s be intellectually honest with ourselves, everyone here is looking to do at least that much good.
“What I am challenging you all with is this thought. No matter how you accomplish it, everyone in this room will do good. The only question is how many people beyond ourselves that good will reach. If the good is only for yourself, think of all that wasted potential!
“To have come so far, and fought for so much to only imitate that which has come before? I may not personally agree with the dynamic, but they’re called Super Villains for a reason. If you’re going to be a villain, then nothing I can say in a single speech when everyone here is only looking to get through so as to get back to whatever friends or family you have waiting will change that. I’m wise enough to understand that. Now, you be wise enough to understand this: the victor may write history but it will always be interpreted by the vanquished.
“Think of it this way- you're the supreme dictator of Tongo- so what? Any nation that you could conquer would be so broke that you'd be paying them for the privilege of being leader. You'd constantly be fighting off every dissident and asshole who'd be wanting to add your turf to his."
I felt myself squirm in my seat at this rather odd direction the speech had taken. "And everything that goes on there would be your problem. It only gets worse, if you try to upgrade to, say Thailand, or Australia. The more sophisticated and prosperous the nation, the more devastated it will be, once you take over. And, the more problems you'll have getting it up and running again, and then, your problems with dissidents and would-be conquerors would be even worse."
“If you get the place up and running again, then the competition to take it from you will be that much worse.” Dad gave one of his benevolent smiles as I watched a number of faces in the crowd trying to puzzle out where he was going with this.
“If all you can do with conquering the world is enjoyment for yourself, you do yourself, your legacy and the world a disservice. There are many things about this world that could use changing. If you think you’re up to the task, you can afford to be generous.”
"Last year, King Faud of Saudi Arabia died. King of one of the world's richest nations and, arguably, one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful men. He is currently buried in an unmarked grave in a public cemetery. His 'reward' is the same as all of us. We all die. What gives us immortality is the legacy we leave after we are gone. Think hard on what you want your legacy to be."
There was any number of places I’d rather have been than on that podium, burning with embarrassment. Unfortunately, there is exactly where I was.
Tuesday, November 21st, 2006
The dreaded hour was rapidly approaching and I couldn’t help feeling even more self-conscious seeing as how the entire student body had seen me sharing the stage yesterday with my dad, the super hero. I puttered for the rest of the afternoon but all I was really doing was killing time and worrying about the coming ‘party’. I was almost relieved to be interrupted from my worry by a soft, but commanding knock at the door. “It’s open,” I called out, expecting Jade.
The young woman who entered was most definitely not Jade; indeed the two could not have been more different.
She was tall, lush with curves and breathtaking in her regal beauty. It was rather like someone had plucked out my hearts desire of how I wanted to look myself and built it on another girl. She was seven inches taller than me, but it wasn’t that awkward, tall girl thing at all. Her head was high and proud; her triangular face set in a carefully neutral expression framed by a cascade of black hair that fell to her waist. Over one arm she had a pair of robes that were black instead of white. “Lily, right?” she asked with the tender smile of someone who was only being polite. She knew exactly who I was.
“That’s right,” I told her, waving her to Mary’s bed. “It’s Black Rose, isn’t it?” She crossed the distance to bed, placing the robes down before sensuously making herself at home.
“Rosalyn,” she corrected with an easy smile. “How are you, this evening?”
I forced a shrug as I sank into my desk’s chair, subconsciously avoiding the bed. “Ok, I guess. Can’t complain too loud, or too long; no one would listen.” Her chuckle was strictly pro forma.
“The joys of ‘Mutant Responsibility’ to quote your father,” she purred eyes always on me for a reaction.
“No one has ever accused my dad of not speaking his mind,” I shot back. “What can I do for you?”
She weighted that for a moment before releasing a slight nod. “I was a tad surprised to see your name on the list for our little night out this evening. I understood from Mary you didn’t swing our way.” Her green eyes flashed with challenge.
It seemed clear she was seeking some kind of psychological or mental dominance and I was determined not to give it to her. “I don’t,” I replied flatly. Rosalyn didn’t so much as blink and I had to hand it to her, she was a cool one. It sucked wanting to look like her so badly.
“So, why tag along?” she asked without malice but definite challenge. “Taking notes for Mary?”
“Not exactly; I’m going because a couple of girls your way thought it would be fun to humiliate a freshman T-Girl.” For the first time, she frowned. I could tell her displeasure wasn’t aimed at me, but it was nice to have gotten her to blink first. That alone made me relax inside.
“Really? Who and whom, if you don’t mind my asking?”
I shrugged. “What does it matter? She feels like she has to go to prove something to these bullies. She can’t go without me, so, there we are.”
“It matters a great deal to me,” she replied. “I don’t approve of that kind of behavior. As the student guide for, well, that should be obvious; I don’t want those I’m responsible for behaving like the men who keep us down. I’m not trying to cause a scene, but if you would supply me with the names of the girls taunting Jade, I can keep an eye on them to help you keep things from getting out of hand.”
“Alright, I suppose another pair of eyes couldn’t hurt. It’s Naomi, Julia as I understand it. There’s a first year girl as well, but I can’t recall her name.” Her smile became predatory once more.
“I appreciate your forthrightness. I’ll keep an eye on them. You and Jade will need to change into these and you’ll want to keep your shoes on.” As she sensuously rubbed the garments, she pined me to the chair with her gaze. “I know how difficult it is to struggle with hidden desires. Don’t feel like you have to make up an excuse to come along. This is for potential lesbians too.”
I was so flabbergasted by her forwardness all I could do was stare at her with my mouth open as she languidly stood and stretched, purposefully putting herself on display. “We’ll be assembling in the lounge a half hour after curfew. Don’t be late, because I’m looking forward to seeing you there…” With that Rosalyn practically oozed out the door.
As I sat in my chair, staring at the robes she’d left, I flashed from chagrin to white hot anger at what she’d implied. I suppose it should have been flattering to be thought of sexually when I was so dissatisfied with my own body, but it wasn’t.
I couldn’t let it be.
Because if I did, then I might find out I could start to look at girls and like them and that might encourage the thing to grow. I let my anger snatch off my clothes and throw them with more force than was necessary into the hamper at the foot of my bed.
The robe was very comfortable and that made my mood worse.
Sitting and brooding in my anger wasn’t getting me anywhere. I decided to catalogue my feelings and try to figure out if some of the things I was so certain of were, in fact, the truth. School was about learning, right? So I mentally compared what I’d felt looking at Rosalyn with what I felt about when I looked at Hank.
I tried not to let my fear do my thinking for me, but, the more I compared the two emotions, the more certain I was of what they were. When I looked at Hank, and more to the point, when Hank looked at me I felt warm and tingly…and, well, moist. I thought about how great his strong arms felt around me, how tender his lips against mine felt.
The only emotion Rosalyn called up was envy.
Envy of her height, envy of those magnificent curves and even of that easy grace and confidence in precisely who and what she was. Man, I do believe that if that BIT thing of Jade’s actually works, I know who I’m going to ask to be the sample.
Of course, none of that changed the evenings remaining unpleasantness and whatever calm I’d managed to work into fluttered away as my thoughts turned once more to being a piece of meat to people I weren’t sexually attracted to.
It was, as luck would have it, that moment that a second knock came at my door. I desperately hoped that this was in fact Jade and not some other ‘recruiter’ as it were. “Come in, I guess.”
To my relief, the door opened to reveal the young Asian girl want-to-be, looking as nervous as I was annoyed at the prospect of what lay before me. “I’m having real second thoughts about this,” I told her softly. “You know this thing is supposed to be lesbian only right?” She started to answer but I couldn’t help cutting her off. “Oh, right; lesbians or potential lesbians.”
My anger came flaring back and I really hate it that I took it out on Jade. “Half of it is a recruitment drive for the sophomore T-girls, to show them the ‘true way’ and the other half is a meet market to shack up with a partner. Why, the hell, am I going?”
“To help me out,” she told me softly, making me wince.
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” I took a deep breath and tried to master my temper. “Jade, sweetheart, why, the hell, are you going? Just ‘cause some PMS freshman double-dared you? You can’t live your life that way.” Her eyes fell to the floor and I felt even worse.
“Well, I’m kind of committed now.”
My sigh was a great lament for the torture women everywhere put ourselves through to fit in. Me included I hate to say. Well, my shy friend was about to be ogled so no time like the present to get her used to it. I stood and fetched her the other robe Rosalyn had left, steeling myself to stare at her as she changed. If she couldn’t do it in front of someone who wasn’t interested, there was no sense going any further with this little burlesque show. “Here. You might as well get ready. You can leave your clothes on my bed. Keep your shoes on.”
God bless her, she managed to do it. Oh she turned about as red as a radish, and her hands lingered to cover things, but honestly I thought I might have gotten out of this farce. “Sure don’t look like a boy,” I prodded her, trying to make her crack under the scrutiny.
Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I…took some precautions.”
“I don’t want to know,” I told her with a sigh. Although that took my mind into some very ugly directions when I wondered what might happen if her ‘precautions’ failed. I might accept the fact that Jade was female, upset lesbians were a whole other kettle of fish. “You know, this could be more dangerous than we realize,” I thought out loud. “I mean, if you were like the only boy at a lesbian hot tub party and what if you got exposed? Are they going to want to shish kebab you?” She shuddered and I got upset and angry with myself again.
“You said it was recruiting T-girls,” her voice drifted up from her floor ward gaze like a feather. “I’m a T-girl. They have to have some tolerance, don’t they?” I took her by the hand and sat her down on my bed once more in hopes of un-doing a little of the damage I might have done.
“Honestly, Jade, I don’t know. I don’t know these girls and I don’t really socialize with them. You’ve probably had more experience with them than I have. What are they like? Your ‘friend,’ Sharisha or, worse yet Hippolyta? Or are they more like Mary and Juanita?”
Her throat bobbed up and down as she considered the possibilities. “I haven’t spent too much time with the sophomores.”
A different plan of action was called for. “Can you fly? Or at least float?”
I watched an odd haze filter around her in what I was coming to understand was my electromagnetic vision. She lifted off the bed for a moment before settling back down. “Yeah, if I need to.”
A pat to the knee, I hope, bolstered what little self confidence she had. “Good. Worse comes to worst, grab me. I’ll make us both invisible and try to fly us out of there. It’s not much of a plan, but it’s something. Besides, at least that way people won’t be catching us in the buff.”
We shared a giggle before I got up. “Ok, let’s get this over with. They’re meeting in the lounge.”
Jackie Warwick, Poe’s resident ‘Lady Lightening’ clone was outside as Jade and I left. We non-butted fists as both of our magnetic fields tended to repel each other. She was very much an alright sort who, I knew had been purely lesbian but was evidently ‘expanding her horizons’ for a bit. Not that I knew who, if anybody she had her sights set on. “What’s up, LL?” I opened with our pat ‘in gag;’ her actual code name was Electrode.
“Not much Panda Girl,” she told me with a chuckle. “I didn’t think you were coming to the clam bake?”
“Nothing about me is simple, Jackie, you ought to know that by now. Oh, Jackie, Jade.”
“Hey there,” she greeted in her bon vivant manner, though Jade just continued to walk, eyes on the floor. I mouthed, Shy to Jackie who nodded.
We didn’t get to talk long as we were entering the lounge, a beaming Rosalyn finished her head count. “Ok, that’s everyone. You sophomores, and others, follow me.”
Poe Cottage, like every building on campus I’m coming to understand, was riddled with secret passages. Not that we used any of them, but rather the front stairs and the back door. Don’t ask me why Mrs. Horton didn’t nail us all to the wall because we weren’t exactly being quiet. Still, we got out without incident and the overcast night was a great help. I imagine we were just about impossible to see, with normal vision that was.
Rosalyn led us down the unpaved path towards Hawthorne cottage, but not very far. After the length of the Red Zone she turned off into the underbrush on a trail, if in fact there was one, which I had never noticed before. We got to be about a football field from Poe before we stopped at an extremely harried stump of an oak tree that was still at least ten feet high. “Now, where is that secret knot?” whispered Jackie to me with a giggle.
Before anyone else could quote The Princess Bride, Rosalyn found the aforementioned secret knot and a passageway swung open with the softest of clicks. We all filed in, one at the time, down a ladder into the most, I hate to say it, romantic limestone grotto I’d ever seen.
Someone had worked very hard to build, renovate or otherwise make useful this place. A low whistle echoed through the chamber in appreciation for their work. It was illuminated by soft blue light that played across both the three separate pools as well as the steps, benches and shelves that were too rough hewn to be rough hewn if you catch my meaning.
“You can put your robes there,” Rosalyn said with a languorous wave at one of the benches. She suited action to words and slipped out of her robe without a second thought.
The green eyed monster came roaring back with a vengeance.
Being envious of Rosalyn in a bulky, unflattering terrycloth robe had been only the most fleeting of tastes compared to being envious of Rosalyn in the nude. Where do I begin? The long, runner’s legs or those so perfect breasts that would have made a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon give up the trade for being a hack?
Damn it there are times I hate being me.
“It’s warm and comfortable,” she cooed in a seductive purr. “Come on in.”
Oh puh-lease! “What ever you owe me, double it,” I whispered to Jade. While the Juniors and Seniors, veterans of this bizarre ritual were already in the pool; there was a sizable crowd of others, still trying to screw their courage to the sticking place. I snatched off my robe and turned to fold it onto the bench where I deposited my shoes as well. “Come on,” I told Jade, probably still more forcefully than I should have. “No sense being last. That gets you even more noticed, believe me.”
I turned back to the clutch of Upper Class women, never more acutely aware of my own physical shortcomings and dared somebody to say something untoward. Rosalyn caught my eye and her smile was actually a little comforting. Her eyes invited me into the pool and to leave the chip on my shoulder with my robe. A deep breath gave me the courage to slip into the water.
It was actually very relaxing, warm to the point of loosening the stress knots my muscles were threatening to work themselves into, but not so hot as to be something that had to be worked into.
Once I was in the water I turned back to give some moral (if I can get away with using that word here) support to Jade. I’d never seen someone’s entire body blush before, but she was as ruddy as a lobster, fresh from the pot. She walked with as much dignity as she could into the water to a cat call from over my shoulder. “Come to mama Little Girl!”
My head shot around to take in the leer decorating Julie’s face, but before I could say anything, Rosalyn had gracefully reached over and thumped her sharply across the back of the head. “Don’t make me correct you again,” she said simply. By the time I’d turned back around, Jade had gotten back close to me and was sitting down in the water up to her neck.
That left the last hold out; a Barbie doll come to life who went by Mega-Girl. I didn’t know her that well, myself, other than she was evidently something of a klutz, through no fault of her own. She was still getting used to being as strong as she was. “You might as well come in, Megs,” Rosalyn called up to her. “You’re just giving us a good view standing there like that.”
“Do we have to put up with this?” a slightly pudgy black girl demanded. Jade winced when she spoke so I wondered if this was the last of her triad of tormentors. “You know she isn’t real! That bod is just some psychokinetic projection or something.”
Well, that was news to me!
I figured she was just trying to interact with normal, everyday things without accidentally destroying them. I had no idea there was evidently a boy under there. I moved slightly closer to Jade, as this would be our litmus test. I wasn’t too afraid for Mega-Girl. I don’t think every girl in the pool together could hurt her.
“Haven’t you seen the shrimp inside?” the girl continued. “Hey Marty, if you drop the skin, I want the first punch when we beat you to a pulp! Honestly, what the hell made you think that we wanted your kind here?”
Now there was an interesting statement, considering where it came from. But Rosalyn was still in her dominant scary place and turned that wilting stare on the loudmouth. “She thought that because I invited her,” she stated, daring the other girl to complain. After a long moment of staring at her to be sure the fight was gone from her, the Black Rose turned back to Mega-Girl. “Now, much as I enjoy the view, Megs, it’s time you came on in.”
Normally, Megs was all sorts of bluster and bravado. When she wasn’t accidentally ripping doors off their hinges she was tossing barbs and basically strutting her stuff. She didn’t get under my skin the way Rosalyn did because, honestly, she was a Barbie Doll. She was unattainable. Still, it was disturbing to watch Miss Thang hesitate, gripped with indecision. “But, I mean…she’s right! Everyone knows it!”
Rosalyn amped up the charm and I began to wonder if it wasn’t me, but that Rosalyn hit on everybody. “Come into the pool, Marty. Let’s talk about it.” A half fall, half flight got Mega-Girl into the pool, shivering, despite the heat, next to Rosalyn who hugged her in a manner half reassurance, half seduction. “Now, before we talk, let the water caress you. Feel it buoy and support you, girls. Some of you, like Sharisha, perhaps, need to relax a little more. Some of you, like Marty, may be feeling insecure in your femininity. Feel the warm waters as they wrap around and under you, opening you to new ideas and experiences.”
“I just might relax too much.” Judy Cooms, better known as Plastic Girl, began stretch out flatter, like a balloon deflating.
“Hold on!” Sharisha suddenly said. “The guys don’t know about this place, do they? Tell me a bunch of fag boys haven’t been – you know – in this water!”
Plastic Girl instantly resumed her normal shape, looking perhaps even more rigid than normal. The other girls sat up, similarly alarmed.
“Calm down,” Blackrose soothed. “Yes, the boys use the grotto, too. But like many of the underground features on campus, this grotto is not exactly natural. The water is as filtered, purified, and processed as you could ever ask for, and it cycles through a complete change every six hours. The grotto is actually a legacy of the class of ’83. They made it look as natural as they could, but it’s mostly ferrocrete with a limestone veneer, and the water comes from the same source as our drinking water. That too-convenient stump has a locking door on it, and there are precautions against eavesdroppers, cameras, snoops, and a host of other un-pleasantries.”
As the girls relaxed again, Rosalyn continued. “Some of you may have been down here a couple of times, on private adventures. Probably others of you have never heard of our little grotto. But you’re sophomores now. Half of you are already sixteen, most of the rest of you will shortly be turning sixteen. That, combined with your placement in Poe, means that it’s time to take a more open look at who you are, who you might become, and who you want to be.”
Mega-girl spoke up again, sounding surprisingly grumpy. “What is this, the lesbian recruitment drive?”
Rosalyn was all seductive smiles. “Among other things. Why, do you object to that?”
Mega-girl scowled, and then pointed at Sharisha. “You heard her! You all know what I look like… underneath this TK projection. I’m just…” her voice grew uncharacteristically quiet. “I’m just some shrimpy little boy.”
Sensing the end game, Rosalyn’s voice was persuasive. “But what do you want to be, Marty? Do you like being Mega-girl? Would you stay that way, if you could?”
Megs was obviously too ashamed to answer, as she sunk lower in the water. But everyone saw the tiny nod that was the only answer Marty would give to the intently personal question.
“Girls,” she spoke up, “you should know that Mega-girl once went for over a month without dropping her so-called ‘shell.’ Not while she sleeps, not when she’d knocked unconscious in a training session. Don’t worry about waking up next to a boy, think about cuddling up to a beautiful blonde who is so strong, and at the same time, so vulnerable. And Marty, let me ask you this: Do you like girls? Do you like looking at them?”
“Well… of course. But…”
“You’re thinking of Iron Star, aren’t you? We’ve all seen how you moon over him. But girl,” she lowered her voice conspiratorially; “you’ve got to know that he’s in the middle of the biggest romantic mess on campus! Even if he wasn’t always giving the puppy dog eyes to Gloriana, he’s still stuck in a tug-of-war between Amy Tang and Steffi Zink.”
Megs just looked miserable.
“That’s what makes this the perfect time to find you! Maybe you aren’t a lesbian. Maybe you aren’t even bi. But you owe it to yourself to find out! Everyone here knows the truth about you, and if you showed the slightest bit of interest, I’m sure there’d be plenty of other girls returned that interest.”
“Is this just going to be one giant heart-warming love-fest?” Julia Krets demanded, pushing in with the manner that had gained her the codename of Shove. “I thought this was going to be a big steamy orgy or something!”
Rosalyn gave her a wry smile. “If we’d wanted an orgy, we would have invited the lust demon from the basement.”
“Amen to that,” Naomi said. “She is so hot!”
Electrode poked a hand up. “Uh, didn’t Hippolyta already claim her?”
That, honestly, surprised me. I figured everybody had heard about that one. “Other way around,” I whispered to her.
That led to a round of ‘this is my place in the rat race of life’ session that made me a little nervous to be honest. While a number of the girls were former jockstrap users, to my surprise including Jackie, I still wasn’t entirely sure this little ‘love in’ wouldn’t end badly. Finally it came around to me so I just shrugged and said, “I’m here because Jade wanted to come.”
Rosalyn was taking a moment away from chatting up Megs to come over a bit and give me the welcome speech. “Lily,” she chided, “You’re among friends here. You don’t have to pretend. We all understand.”
“Is it so hard for you to accept I’m straight?” I asked her, more than a little annoyed. At her prodding, everyone was staring at me and that wasn’t doing too much for my mood. “I’m not ‘pretending,’ I’m just doing a favor to a friend, that’s all.”
“It’s been my experience,” she purred in her most seductive purr. “That those who protest the loudest and the longest, turn out to be some of the most vigorous converts, once they let themselves relax.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Look, I got in under a legacy. My mom, Tabby Cat, was in Poe, if you must know. But I’m interested in guys, okay? And before any of you get any strange ideas, nothing weird is happening to me, or going to happen to me, understand?”
Rosalyn pouted ever so slightly. “How can you be so sure?” she wanted to know.
“How about because Sara does nothing for me?” I asked her.
She blinked; I’m not sure from amazement or disappointment. Either way she just nodded and rubbed my shoulders in an almost fraternal way. “You’re straight,” she admitted with a laugh. “Pity, but I appreciate you coming and being open minded about it.”
While Rosalyn and I were having our conversation, I picked up on the fact that Sharisha was using our distraction to hammer at Jade. “I know what a speculum feels like, okay?” she snapped at her. That seems to have done the trick as the chubby girl found other people to talk to. When pressed by someone else about her orientation, Jade replied, “Maybe I’ll figure it out when I know myself. I’m still puzzled by the whole ‘lust’ thing. What’s that like, anyway? Is that why everyone always acts so weird around Sara?”
“Not everyone,” I muttered while shaking my head with the others. From there, Julia and Naomi opened up a round of man bashing that seemed like they had rehearsed pretty extensively. Both Mega-Girl and Jackie protested, but this time, Rosalyn picked the other side.
“It’s another face of the sisterhood,” she said with a shrug. “Some of us find men fairly useless, others have lower opinions. Even if you don’t fully agree, you have to admit that they have some good points.”
“Good points or no,” I piped up, “everybody here has to admit they are here because of a man. Without men, humanity comes to a screeching halt. And before you protest, I’m not just talking about sperm donation…!”
“But, without men, rape comes to a screeching halt,” returned Rosalyn with a frown.
“Everything has its bad points,” I conceded. “But if the good ones aren’t nurtured and, well, bred, then the problem never gets fixed. I’m certainly not ready to give up on an entire gender do to the obnoxious points of the squeaky wheels.”
Despite my best efforts, Naomi and Julia felt a paint job with a broad brush was the order of the day, so I let them go at it. While they didn’t mention any of the Poe boys, for which I was grateful, their eyes found plenty of subjects from the rest of the campus. Every weakness and character flaw was dragged out into the light for scrutiny, from their lusts, their less than polite views of women in general to a more generic bit of ‘beer and football,’ remote control hogging and the perennial ‘redneck hunter’.
I was just glad I didn’t have to get into an argument defending Hank. My own personal foibles were far too much on display as it was.
The ‘climax’ of the evening was Naomi’s “Tale of the Haunted Penis.” Boy, would Dr. Freud have a field day with that one…
“…so the rapist was convicted and then castrated by the same women he’d tormented. But after they castrated him, they forgot about the penis! They dragged him, bleeding and screaming, to the pyre. He was burned alive, swearing with his dying breath that he would visit his revenge upon every one of them, and their daughters, and their daughter’s daughters, for seven generations! One of the women finally realized her mistake. She ran to the chopping block, where the bloody axe still lay embedded in the wood, but the penis was gone! And at the base of the bock was a small hole in the ground, like a snake’s hole.
“Some say that the penis was filled with the male power of lust and hatred for women, and that it burrowed away like an earthworm. They say it still roams the earth, waiting for the time when it might find nubile and innocent girls to penetrate and ravage. Others say that it’s only superstition, that the penis was burned along with the rapist. All I can do is to warn you: Beware! Whenever you find yourself outdoors, keep your legs together! Otherwise, you never know what might suddenly try to thrust itself inside you! Beware!”
It thought it was a pretty, pardon the pun, limp story, but when Scramble, Electrode and Mega-Girl screamed all almost at once I tensed, thinking something was in the water. Maybe this place wasn’t nearly as ‘secret’ as we’d been lead to believe. Then something started poking at my nether regions and, out of reflex I bent the light round me with a force field held tightly to my skin. The feeling vanished as Julia practically doubled over in laughter.
“Julia! Shove! You did this!” Scramble accused.
Julie wiped away a tear. “What? You mean I gave you a TK shove that was maybe an inch-and-a-half wide, right where it counts? You should have seen yourself jump!”
Poor Megs, she’d practically given herself a black eye from her exuberance. “It wasn’t funny!” I muttered as I became visible once more. As Marty was rubbing her abused breasts I couldn’t help a snicker. “Well…except for Megs, maybe.”
Jackie and I got into a conversation about men and their salient points. She asked my opinions, which I had to be fairly circumspect about, though I did make it clear as tactfully as I could that Hank was spoken for. True to her word, Rosalyn made sure nobody bothered Jade and let us have our conversation about the other side of the street in peace.
If there was a rueful shake of her head at our interests, well, she had Mega-Girl to keep her company. As I was getting my robe back on and settled, Jade practically pushed her rear into my face! “Do I have a birthmark on my, uh, my behind?”
“Oh please!” I groaned leaning back a bit. “As if the night hasn’t been bad enough, you’re shoving your butt in my face?” She flushed and took a step away, giving me a bit more room to finish putting my shoes on.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “Can you please tell me if I have a birthmark?”
I am such a soft touch for this little stinker! “I guess. Either that or you sat on a bumpy rock too long.” She seemed excited about that as she pulled on her robe and shoes.
“Really? What does it look like?”
“A blob,” I teased her. “Oh, okay, okay, sort of a thin triangle, I guess, about the size of your pinky fingernail, kind of more tan than the rest of your skin with a dark dot behind it. Well, here,” and I called up and deformed a pair of force fields until they took on the size and shape of the mark. Jade was fascinated.
“Huh! You go through your whole life, and then, on your first lesbian skinny-dipping session, you learn something new about yourself.”
I mounted the ladder with a rueful chuckle at her young amazement. “Yeah, strange, isn’t it? And keep your eyes down until I get off the ladder!”
Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006
My stomach was in knots as I waited back stage for the curtain to go up. I probably shouldn’t have stressed over this opening so much; after all we’d been rehearsing it do death over the last two months. Mr. Lord hadn’t corrected anything we’d done in the rehearsals for two weeks or better.
Indeed, of us all, Mr. Lord was the picture of calm as he wondered from student to student, making final adjustments to costumes and make up. “Five minutes everyone,” he called as he passed me, giving the blonde wig I was wearing a quick, if remorseful glance.
It was the one thing we’d really fought over in the production. He had really wanted me to dye my hair and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Blonde was so far out of my mental dynamic I was simply unable to imagine being that way. Not to mention having to re-dye it black again and the long wait for it to finish growing out.
We’d experimented with a wash out temporary dye but my hair was so black it only managed a kind of weak brown grey.
“Nervous, Maid Lily?” asked Paul as he ambled up, looking of us all probably the most at home in the doublet, pantaloons and hose. The sword at his hip seemed made for him.
I took as deep a breath as the brocade corset I was wearing would let me. “Trying not to think about it, honestly, Paul,” I told him with a smile. “How are things with you and Nikki progressing?”
His smile brightened the backstage area considerably. “Well and you have mah deepest thanks,” he told me with a flourishing bow the half cape he was wearing complimented greatly. For once, Paul had found clothing that worked for him. Too bad it was three hundred years out of date. “My love and Ah have taken each meal together since Saturday and Ah have you to thank for that success. Ah am in your debt.”
I couldn’t keep in a wheezing giggle because of the corset. “I’m really glad it’s working out for you two,” I told him earnestly. “I hope it continues to do so, really.”
“Ah can only pray,” he replied. “Still, Ah would but yearn from afar if not for your learned efforts. Call, and Ah will answer.”
“Two minutes, people,” called Mr. Lord’s voice distantly.
“Paul, I really didn’t do anything but help you find yourself. Hold onto that and you’ll be alright.” He beamed at me but otherwise said nothing so I took the moment to peek out into the auditorium at the packed house waiting patiently for the play to start.
I didn’t see an empty seat and that was cause for some movement from the butterflies in my stomach. “Ah hear the matters of your own heart advance with equal loquacity,” he whispered to me. I pulled back from the crowd outside, unable to pick out where my own parents were sitting, but that was probably a good thing.
“Can’t say I’m upset about the progress there,” I told him with a soft smile of my own. “My folks want Hank to come down to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving.”
“It’s just dinner, Paul,” I admonished him with a rueful shake of my head at the weight he seemed to place on it. Paul just shook his head at some naiveté he perceived on my part.
“The introduction of one’s love to one’s parents is never just a meal, dear lady,” he countered. Before I could rebut his comment, Scott and Julius strutted out onto the stage as Iago and Roderigo began their interplay.
The play was underway.
There are many times in my life where I wonder about the masks I wear in my day to day dealings with people. There’s Lily the Student, Wall Flower the Super Heroine in training and any number of other personae in between. I was so many different people in so many different ways, I had little time to wonder who I really was inside.
It seemed like a simple enough question on the face of it, but do we really know the answer when we stop to think about it?
The profound truth I quested after was probably the source of the next set of difficulties of my life. The facts of it were certainly innocent enough.
When the play was finished we’d received a standing ovation from the audience. Not Broadway, perhaps, but certainly stirring enough for a high school performance of the Bard. My own cap was doffed to Andy DeWitt and his inspired take on the troubled Moor of Venice. Not an easy role in the best of circumstances, Andy managed to convey brooding, lust, jealousy and maudlin remorse by turns.
Once I could breathe again, free from the corset, Hank’s congratulations had been welcome and heartfelt. He’d whisked me from the euphoric atmosphere of the company from its third curtain call to Schuster Hall to catch the last of the snacks before the cafeteria closed for the night.
It was here that I decided to drop my little bomb.
As I admired the curtain of stars beyond the lofted crystal dome that gave the building its name, I let my hot chocolate cool as I worked up the courage to open my promise. It was hard to get a word in edgewise due to his effervescent praise at my thespian endeavors. “Hank?”
“Sorry,” he admitted with a blush. “Babbling, huh?”
“Normally I wouldn’t mind so much,” I told him with a grin that I hoped softened my reproach. “But, I promised my folks I’d ask you something.”
His demeanor changed at once to a contrite expression. “Your mom still ticked at me?” he asked.
“No,” I admitted with some care. “Actually, she seems rather taken with you. We, well, it’s hard to put you on the spot like this, to be honest. I don’t want you to feel like what I’m about to ask you have to do.”
“Lily, you’re killing me with the suspense!”
Now it was my turn to blush. I took a deep sigh and a sip of cooling chocolate to try and bolster my slipping resolve. “We were wondering if you had any plans for Thanksgiving?”
Confusion danced across his face. “Why?”
“Dad’s really kind of anxious to meet you and none of us wanted you to have to stay at the school over the holiday. So, we thought you might like to come with us to Providence.”
“Wow,” he breathed softly. I watched the mental gears turn behind his eyes as the worked through the ramifications of what I’d just put forward. “Well,” he started again. “Wow. I’m really flattered to be honest. How do you feel about it?”
“It seems like a really big step after the baby one’s we’ve taken on our own,” I told him, truthfully.
“Yeah. I guess neither of us were really ready for something like this to crop up, huh?”
I shrugged; conscious more than ever of the tiny strides my bosom had begun taking and a bit of wonder at when they would be noticeable without a tape measure. “It’s not really that serious if we don’t let it be, is it?”
Before he could respond, I caught sight of Rosalyn entering the Hall with a can of pop. She seemed guided by some sixth sense to the table Hank and I were sharing, a smile on her face as she approached. Once more, the jealousy of her figure flared in me, even as I tried to suppress it. “Hey, kids,” she purred, sliding into an open seat next to Hank.
Her motions did interesting things to both the midriff revealing top and the hip hugger pants she was wearing. I don’t blame Hank for letting his eyes roam, I just wish I had something to compete with. “This seat taken?”
If you can’t join them… “It is now,” I told her.
“Lily, I just couldn’t let the night go by with out stopping by and telling you what a bang up job you did tonight,” she told me in all sincerity before presenting her free hand to my boyfriend. “Hank, right? Good to meet you; I’m Rosalyn.”
“I didn’t know you were such a theater lover,” I heard myself say. I shouldn’t feel angry; I knew it and fought the feeling as it flared with in me. If Hank could be trusted with anyone, it had to be Rosalyn.
She shrugged, letting us all know she’d decided a bra was optional equipment this evening. “What else are you going to do in Dunwich the Wednesday before Thanksgiving?” she told me with a chuckle. “I’m just glad you took a different tack with Desdemona than the sniveling piece of chattel she normally gets. You rock, sister.”
Rosalyn made a show of looking between us and ‘letting’ our situation dawn on her. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m interrupting you two…”she started, half standing before I could stop her.
“No, it’s all good. Hank and I were just talking about him coming home with me for Thanksgiving.” Her grin became just a tad salacious.
“Really?” she replied as she slid back into the seat. “Wow, meeting the folks, huh? Big step,” she intimated as she took a sip from her pop. “I hadn’t thought you two were that far along.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Hank with more than little confusion in his tone. Rosalyn was all innocent looks.
“Well, nothing I suppose. I was just under the impression nothing meet the parents scale had happened between you two. It might not be my cup of tea, but what two healthy and caring people, like you two for instance, do to show their affection for each other I’m all for.”
I couldn’t keep from rolling my eyes in disbelief of her rather cavalier attitude. “Not everything is about sex, Rosalyn,” I chided her.
“Isn’t it?” she purred over the top of her pop can. “I thought that’s what we were talking about here. You two…dating…meeting parents. I think it’s lovely, if a little old fashioned.” She let us mull over her thorn for a moment before continuing. “Of course I’m not pressuring you two into anything you’re not ready for, but, there’s a silver lining to every dark cloud.”
“Now, what is that supposed to mean?” demanded Hank.
“Terrible thing about Juanita’s great uncle,” she replied with a shake of her head. “But, it does have certain upsides. I just want to see that you two, an obviously level headed and responsible couple think about all your alternatives, that’s all.” She gave us the most suggestive wink I’d been favored with from her so far.
“When does Mary get back, Lily?” she asked innocently before snapping her fingers. “That’s right, not till after Thanksgiving. You kids have a good night.”
With that, she should and practically sashayed out the hall. We both watched her depart before Hank turned back to me, a dumbstruck look on his face. “You know, I think she was trying to tell us to…” he started before I reached over and covered his lips.
After all, I worked Campus Security. I knew exactly how well they kept tabs on things. “You know, Hank,” I said as I rose. “ I believe I’m tired.”
Rosalyn and I might not see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I have to give her credit in the good advice department. The time had, I do believe, come to take the bull by the horns.
“Walk me back to my room?”
He couldn’t get out of his chair fast enough.
I all but floated on the way back to Poe.
This was a pretty big step for me, becoming a woman in every sense of the word, but I couldn’t think of anyone else that I’d rather lay claim to this threshold of my life. Nor anyone but Hank that I was willing to be this close to. In our time together, the two of us had become more than friends.
I’m not waxing poetic, but it was just the truth.
Hank and I were in a very real sense two halves of the same person, separated by two different lives. Even different, we were very much the same. I didn’t have anything but hopes as to what the future of our friendship would be, but they were very real hopes to me.
Hopes that seemed to have an excellent chance of becoming realities.
More to the point, of all the people I had been forced to by circumstance to naked in front of, Hank was the one who made me the most comfortable.
Secure in my room once more, alone for the time being, I took the time to light a few candles to give the dorm room a bit more ambience than the florescent overhead or the lamp on my desk could. It wasn’t a four-star hotel room, draped in scarlet silk, but there wasn’t one of those for a hundred miles or better anyway.
I was trembling as he took me into his arms and hugged me. “Nervous?” he asked softly.
“You have no idea,” I murmured into his chest. I was pleased to feel it was hard and firm, whip like cords of muscle over steel. However he had been born, Hank Declan was a man now, and soon there would be no one who could argue the point.
“Despite what Rosalyn says, we don’t have to do anything,” he told me softly, causing me to look up imploringly into his intoxicating cadet grey eyes.
“Have to and want to are worlds apart, love,” I told him softly. “I’ve never wanted something more in my life than this moment, right here and now with you.”
That brought a confident smile to his face that made me tremble slightly. “That makes two of us,” he whispered as he leaned down tenderly brushed his lips against mine. His hold on me was firm, the unreleasing grasp of a hunter with his prized quarry, yet gentle as well, mindful of the great strength he possessed and the frailness of my body.
The kiss stretched out to the warm fragrance of vanilla and apple blossoms in a timeless blend of two souls yearning to become one. It was the most romantic moment of my life.
As my emotion stirred within me, I realized that I didn’t desire to possess Hank. In fact, there was no sense of ownership at all to the feelings that flowed throughout me. I wanted to share myself with him to have him share himself with me and for a brief moment be more than what I was.
After a lifetime of his lips against mine, we parted with a sigh, separate once more and in our isolation I felt a burning desire to explore that which I had feared so much in my self. Longing now to feel his, knowing that it would remain him, even as it became me as well.
I helped him out of his shirt and let my fingers explore his broad, gymnast’s physique, the ridges and curves that sculpted him in warm, radiating flesh. There was nothing feminine about him from the waist up, only a nimble, manly study of anatomy that would have done any sculptor proud.
As my fingers explored, I found he was ticklish as he jerked slightly as I found the sensitive spots scattered about his form. I took a perverse delight in tormenting him for a moment, good naturedly making him squirm as my fingertips found their marks. “Lily!” he nearly squealed as he could stand it no more and caught me up once more, his lips driving the thought of torturing him from my mind.
He deftly managed to relieve me of both top and bra without breaking our embrace which helped me considerably as I matched his state of undress, the soft, un-ambitious mounds that curved my own breast pressed against him in shame.
I wanted so much more to present to him, this Knight who deserved a greater challis than I had to offer him. His broad hands caressed my back, his voice whispering soft encouragement into my hair. “I picked you,” I heard him whisper. “I could have picked anyone and I picked you, Lily. You’re not my stepping stone or an easy path, you are my goal.”
“I wish…” I started, unable to continue as he bent down hastily and literally swept me from my feet; his lips once more crushed against mine.
“I don’t,” he assured me as he slowly withdrew and with great care laid me down on my bed. “As you are, Lily, as you may become, or not, but as you are is what I desire now. Nothing else matters.” Then he loomed over me, the bed groaning slightly as his weight joined mine and the full weight of what the night held in store presented itself to my mind’s eye.
This would not be innocent, rather the end of innocence. The beginning of a new chapter of my life greater and yet less than what I had lived before. The death of the girl Lily Turner and the birth of the woman Lily Turner, and her passing to rebirth was all right with me. To share myself with Hank and share him in return was ample redress for the blood that would be spilt.
The remainder of my clothing Hank kissed from my body until I had been returned to the state in which I had entered the world; nude, warm and loved. He had chased any thought of self consciousness from my mind, I could only lie back, feeling supremely desired and appreciated as he explored me with all of his senses.
I was comfortable in a way I should not have been, yet this comfort I wore as easily a well broken in pair of jeans. He stirred my feelings with a slow, insistent rhythm until he was satisfied I was prepared for him. Then it was his turn to be teasing and devious; to make me squirm under his grasp until I could take it no longer.
It was fair, I’ll admit, but it was an ordeal to live through. To desire more than I had, while being patient to await his time. At last I could stand no more so I squirmed out from under him, egger for him to join me in my nakedness. To face my fear and conquer it in one fell swoop.
My turn had arrived to relieve him of his constricting garments and I did so with all the grace I could muster. When I had achieved my goal, with a fascinated trepidation, I began to explore him. It is hard to describe my discoveries without a frame of reference to be honest. I had the scientific knowledge of course, and I had my own terrors to paint the object as a symbol of fear. Yet, in the candlelight, on him, there wasn’t much fear as my eyes converted knowledge to experience.
Oddly, then it was his turn to squirm, his hands seeking to cover himself from my fascinated gaze. “Hank?” I asked him softly.
“I know it’s not much yet,” he whispered, his voice dripping with embarrassment and shame. “I’ve only had him a year.”
Letting the frown tug at the corners of my mouth, I reached out and pulled his hands away, making sure my bust was completely exposed to him. “I think he’s wonderful,” I told him as earnestly as I could. “I’d never judge you after the kindness you’ve shown me over my short comings.”
He blushed as I got his hands behind his head to keep him comfortable. “I guess we’re more alike than we knew, huh?” he asked with a sheepish chuckle.
“I never doubted it,” I told him with a smile. I reached down and took my bull by his horn, unprepared really by the look of abject bliss that painted across his face.
“That’s nice,” he sighed as I explored with my hand. He tensed as a stray thought crossed his mind and his eyes opened again. “Lily, please…” he stammered, his cheeks flushing again.
“What, love?” I murmured, keeping my rhythm as best I could.
“It’s…embarrassing,” he managed, and I could feel his words having a very undesirable effect against my ministrations. “Don’t touch me under my…sack…please.”
“Alright,” I told him, trying to reassure him while I fought the curiosity that flared at what he was trying to keep from me.
I knew he could see the curiosity before I could take it from my face. Finally, he worked up the courage to admit, “It’s still open…” To be honest, it took quite a bit of will power not to immediately go and look, to see him as I feared myself.
But I mastered myself and honored his wish. It made it impossible to return his kindness in the full measure to obey him, so I tried my best with my hands to make up for it.
It probably wasn’t the best time, as I look back on it, to have considered our lack of preparation then. I wasn’t on the pill, and despite Rosalyn’s confidence in our level of responsibility I knew I didn’t have a condom. “Hank…” I started, worried about the destruction of the mood.
Of course, knowing my luck, that was when my worry would be put to rest. Before I could finish properly announcing my worry, his breathing, which had steadily been growing shorter and more desperate gasped out a low moan. My hands were covered in a clear, slick, but sticky substance to my great surprise.
As the bliss left him, a contrite shame settled over him as he started stammering out an apology. “Stop,” I told him with a genuine smile of amusement. “Do I look like I’m upset?”
“But…” he started before my giggles infected him.
“But nothing,” I replied with a kiss. “Unless you just intend to roll over and go to sleep.”
My much abused box of Kleenex cleaned up the mess we had made together before he decided turn about was fair play. I squirmed under his power again, this time brought beyond readiness, up to the top of the mountain and pulled over the edge by him.
It might not have been the way I had intended the night to transpire, but the way he pulled me into his arms I don’t think I would have felt closer to him if I had gotten him inside of me. It was the most wonderful way to fall asleep I’d yet experienced.
Thursday, November 23rd, 2006
I awoke the next morning to a pair of complaints I wasn’t entirely prepared for. Despite the troubles of last night, Hank and I had managed to come closer than I ever thought I would to another human being. It was really wonderful and the lingering buzz was only slightly lessened by his prodigious snoring.
The odd thing was I itched, everywhere.
It brought me from my somnolent recollections of the night previous to float carefully out of the bed. I certainly didn’t want to wake him and I was grateful there was no repeat of Monday morning. I was nearly free of the bed when a new weight shifting across my chest cost me my concentration and I fell rather painfully to the floor.
There was a weight on my chest!
Looking down on my abused knees that had taken the brunt of my fall I was greeted with the reason my body itched so much. A lovely full pair of breasts had evidently grown in over night.
“My Body Image Template has finally arrived,” I whispered as both hands crept up to touch the objects of my longing. Their softness surprised me, as well as their sensitivity as they gently gave to the slight lift my hands gave them.
I honestly felt like I would cry, I was so thrilled!
I got gingerly to my feet and everything at once felt odd. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the room was very much different. I went over to my closet to find a robe and the reason why there was such a feeling of difference. I was taller, noticeably taller as the robe I pulled on which before had nearly reached my ankles was now around my knees.
This was a dream come true tall and curvy?
I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, but it hurt and I was still awake. There was the nagging worry that my clothes wouldn’t fit, but that was very much low on my priority list.
New clothes could be bought!
Absolutely floating, I drifted back over to Hank and started to give him a gentle shove to wake him. Then I thought the better of it, leaned down and kissed him. He stirred as his libido woke him up but just as the kiss was getting interesting he started and jerked away from me. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“Take it easy, Hank,” I soothed him. “I had a lot of great changes in the night.”
His eyes narrowed in confusion. “Lily?” he asked hesitantly.
“In the flesh!” I proclaimed, proudly opening my robe to put my new assets on display. “What do you think?”
I really wasn’t prepared for him to avert his eyes. “I...I think you might want to look in a mirror, honey.” I was ready for a host of emotions for this day, but none of what I was feeling were on the list.
“What?” I demanded, more than a little hurt and crestfallen at his behavior. He forced his eyes to meet mine and I could see the worry in them that got my own worries cranking up as well.
“Lily, sweetheart, go look in your mirror.”
I’d already almost cried once this morning and it was looking like I might be again for an entirely different reason. With great hesitation I made my way to the closet and opened the mirror built into the door.
There had been many times in my life where I’d faced things that nobody my age was really meant to face. Desperate street thugs armed with a lack of foresight and a .38 chief among them. For the first time in my short life I was afraid to face myself in the mirror.
When my reflection met my eyes I understood why Hank was so nervous. All that mental prepping I’d done to face myself was wasted as I wasn’t facing myself.
Rosalyn ‘Blackrose’ Dekkard stared out at me, wearing my robe.
Honestly, I don’t think anyone can blame me for screaming.