The Kodiak Conspiracy (Chapter 4)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
The Kodiak Conspiracy
by E. E. Nalley
The whole damned world is just as obsessed
With who's the best dressed and who's having sex
Who's got the money, who gets the honeys
Who's kinda cute and who's just a mess
Bowling For Soup - High School Never Ends
May 3RD, 2007
Room 216, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
When Elaine woke up that morning she didn't just feel good, she felt wonderful. Spending the night in the Dream-Space she would have thought would have been draining, as if she'd stayed awake the whole night, but she couldn't remember feeling so well rested, so energized, so alive! Even the fact that in the middle of the night she'd somehow scrunched down in the bed and gotten her legs entangled with the metal tubes that made up the foot board of the bed couldn't spoil her morning. She got her feet loose, only barely feeling the cold rolled steel bars and sat up, wondering why her pajamas and tank felt so tight.
She stretched as Maggie was slowly dragging herself out of bed and just heard the rip of her tank top start to give way because of the stretch before Maggie's eyes went wide and she squealed in fright. Not the low squeal of a girl being tickled unexpectedly, or the high squeal of an arachnophobe seeing some one's pet spider that's gotten loose. This was the high, undulating, deafening scream of someone who was in fear of their life. Elaine didn't know what was behind her, but if it scared Maggie that badly she wanted away from it, and launched herself across the room.
Maggie, still squealing in terror scrambled off the bed towards the door as Elaine spun to face what ever it was that had scared her room mate, only to find Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage staring out of their poster as normal. “Wha...?” she started, turning to her room mate, who was, oddly, still screaming, as she clawed the door open and fled, screaming into the hall.
Elaine looked around the room again and still seeing everything as fine, she turned to follow, now very worried about her best friend when Sally Talbert appeared in the doorway. It was obvious the young blonde was just as mystified as Elaine was, until she looked into the room. Then her eyes went wide as saucers and she activated her power. Sally's codename was Coldstone, and instantly her skin took on the color of black basalt or obsidian even her hair went black while her eyes became a clear, milky white. Lanie started to turn to try and see what everyone was reacting to when Coldstone slammed into her at full speed.
Coldstone was a brick, every sense of the word and the pair were carried across the room by her momentum. The far wall shattered in an explosion of bricks and broken glass and both girls landed in a heap a good ten feet from the building. What a beautiful day, Lanie noticed, too stunned for rational thought of how she'd just survived being pushed through a brick wall or falling two stories.
Sally made to haul her up by her top, but the wall had finished what her stretch had started and the tank gave up the ghost, and Elaine's breasts, coming away in her hands. Having her top ripped off was finally enough to penetrate the mental fog Elaine was in to realize she was under attack and reflexively, she lashed out at Coldstone with a closed fist.
Normally, some part of her mind observed, had she struck an exemplar brick with manifested stone skin full force, she'd have broken every bone in her hand. Today, for some odd reason, Sally's head got snapped around like she'd just taken a blow from Slab and she was launched ten feet backwards, into the wall of Whitman. Not through the wall, but doing significant damage to it and blowing out the windows on either side of where she struck in a rainbow shower of broken glass.
Lanie looked down to find her fist covered in ruddy fur, which matched that on her arms and breasts and torso, she now noticed, looking at her topless chest. Her pajama pants were bravely keeping what little modesty she could cling to at this point, but they were a hopeless ruin and couldn't take much more of this. She looked up, just in time to see Coldstone pry herself out of the wall and launch herself again. Calm, whispered the memory of Sensei Ito's voice. Panic in an attack can be lethal. Observe your opponent quickly, do they lead with the same hand? Do they stand off balance? Such little things can make all the difference. A charging bull is easily deflected, take whatever handle they offer you...
Elaine reached out and locked a strong grip on the wrist of Sally's outstretched arm. Now you own their momentum and strength, use it! A foot... Lanie stepped down, just in front of Sally's foot, tripping her and sending her airborne. Now, pull, add to their mistake. Between her new strength and Coldstone's speed, the rock girl seemed to weigh nothing. Pick a direction with something hard and make them stop. Elaine pulled her arm up, causing Coldstone to flip end over end, then with her fist as icing, slammed her down into the ground.
Sally struck the dirt like a gunshot, her breath knocked from her in a painful wheeze. “Stop attacking me!” Lanie shouted, stepping back from the girl quickly. It was a reflex from time on the mats of Sensei Ito and it probably saved her life, because as she was no longer standing over a student in a threatening manner, Mrs. Savage, who had come running out the door with a very large handgun had been seconds from shooting her.
“Freeze!” the House-Mother shouted. “Move and die!”
Elaine froze. “Mrs Savage, it's me, Elaine!”
“Ow,” groaned Sally from the ground. Mrs. Savage carefully de-cocked the hand cannon and walked over.
“Miss Nalley, I realize I give you girls a lot of leeway to 'free wheel' but what in Gods name do you think you're doing destroying the cottage without your top on?”
Lanie looked about at the crowd that was rapidly forming and something within her clicked and instead of dying with embarrassment, Grizzly's mental voice said, Let them stare, they wish they looked half as good. She put her hands on her hips and for the first time in her life, looked down on the tall House-Mother. Actually, towered over was the correct word. Patricia Savage was six feet tall flat footed and oddly some might think for such an action oriented woman, she loved high heels. The boots she was currently wearing had at least a three or four inch heel. And with that as a guide, Elaine realized she was likely on the high side of seven feet. “Ah, well, Ah woke up this way,” she stammered, then became cross and pointed at Coldstone who was still struggling to rise. “And Sally ripped mah top off!”
“Maggie was screaming in hysterics,” coughed Sally from the ground. “And then I look into the room and see that.”
Mrs. Savage looked back at the damage to her cottage then returned her gaze to her students. “Sally, upstairs and ready for class. Elaine, you're with me. Let's get you decent and then over to Doyle.” She looked off in the direction of the quad. “Foob?”
A dapper man appeared, his back studiously to the topless, half bear woman. “Good morning Trish. Quite a start to the day, isn't it? I'll have facilities over to start repairs and probably a good idea to have Mr. Forrest send young Mr. Cody over, as he might be able to shed some light on things.”
“Louis, you're a godsend!”
The world's greatest psychic faded away while the girls returned to the cottage and Mrs. Savage led the way into her apartment. “Nothing you have will fit you now. I might have something of Clarke’s still. It will be tight, but he was a big man...” she walked over to the steamer trunk on the far side of the living room that Elaine always remembered being there, but had never seen her open. She rummaged a bit and pulled out sweat shirt with the logo of The Hidalgo Trading Company. She brought it over and had the girl present her back and held it against her shoulders. “No, not even close,” she said with a sigh.
Mrs. Savage walked over to the Dutch door and called out to a passing student. “Elisabeth!”
“I want you to run over to the book store and buy the largest men's sweat suit they have. Men's you understand?”
“Have them put it on my account. Off you go,” she directed, then sighed and shut the door again. She smiled and shook her head, “Well, with that fur, I know you're not cold, Elaine but we ought to cover you up to be decent.” She went into the hall closet and returned with a bed sheet. “Here you are, dear.”
“You're taking this awfully well, Mrs. Savage,” Elaine complimented.
Trish smiled. “Dear, this is my job. And surprisingly, it's actually calmer than being a marine. Sit down. Coffee?”
“Hot chocolate please,” the girl replied, sinking slowly into the chair to be sure it would take her weight.
“Coming right up.” By the time a cup that was practically the size of a soup bowl of steaming hot chocolate had been sent in front of Elaine the front door of Whitman was thrown open with a crash and the upset yells of a number of girls came through closed door. Mrs. Savage got up again and opened it, just as breathless Wyatt Cody came running up. “Mr. Cody!” commanded Mrs. Savage sharply, bringing the boy up short. “What are...?”
“Mr. Forrest said something happened to Lanie, and the building...!”
“Ah'm fine!” yelled Elaine from her efforts of trying to figure out how to drink a hot beverage with a muzzle. Wyatt looked through the Dutch door, past Mrs. Savage.
“Elaine?” he asked, dumbfounded, then smiled. “Let me guess, you woke up that way?”
“Do you know what's going on?” demanded Mrs. Savage as she opened the lower door and ushered the boy into her apartment. Wyatt was laughing and shaking his head.
“She's just manifested Grizzly, the spirit in side her. I can manifest the Kodiak the same way.” He saw what she was trying to figure out and raised a cautioning hand. “You can't drink with a muzzle,” he warned her. “But you can bend your tongue and lap it. Undignified, but it beats wearing it which is what will happen if you try it normally.”
Mrs Savage went into her kitchen, rummaged in the junk drawer every kitchen has and came with with a straw. “Be careful, it's hot,” she warned Elaine. Turning to Wyatt she asked, “How does she turn back?”
“The first time I was stuck for a couple of hours,” he admitted. “My mom went nuts thought it was some kind of instant GSD. I don't really think about it any more, I just want to be one or the other and I am.” He rubbed his chin in thought. “Freshmen year the Avatars class gave me an exercise.” He sat down and took hold of her arm so he could hold it up where she could see it.
It was a tremendous relief to her that this new form didn't seem to bother him at all. “Ok, Lanie. Look at your hand. Remember how it used to look. Start just at your finger nails. Think hard and remember how you had that French manicure you always wear.”
“You notice mah nails?”
“Concentrate,” he scolded her. “Now imagine these claws looking like that. Make the tips white. That's what color they're supposed to be. You have the power to make them that way.” Elaine stared at the claws her hands ended with. They were a dull grayish black and dangerous looking.
As she stared, the very ends lightened, faster and faster until they became a pure white and slowly the claws began to shrink. “Good,” he encouraged her. “Now your fingers. They're long and thin, and the skin is silky and smooth. They don't have fur, do they? Remember how they were, make them they way they're supposed to be.”
The hot chocolate burned her tongue, but that didn't keep her from experiencing an assault on her mind from the resultant in a burst of flavors like she'd never experienced and a sharp pain. Her claws went back to black and shot back out to their wickedly curved original state. “Ah'm sorry!” she mumbled, waving her other hand at her tongue. “It's hot and really good.”
“Your sense of smell is much sharper now,” he told her with a laugh. “Taste and smell are very closely related so yes, I've noticed everything tastes either much much better or unbelievably worse in this form.”
“How much sharper?” she asked, practically having a food-gasm from her second, more cautious sip of the chocolate.
“Well if a dog's nose is one hundred times better than human's, and a blood hound is three hundred times better, a bear's nose is seven times better than a blood hound,” he told her with a smile as here eyes when wide as saucers. “Bears have pretty much the best sense of smell on Earth. Now, do these forms of ours have a sense of smell that developed? Hard to judge, really. But I've never been surprised as to what was on offer at the Crystal Hall at meal time.”
“From the door?”
“From my room in Melville,” he corrected. “So, finish your drink so you can concentrate on this.”
“Fine,” she mumbled, closing her eyes to suss out and savor every new nuance of the experience. Elaine had always enjoyed chocolate and found it always lightened her mood if she was having a bad day, but this...this was practically a narcotic.
Mrs Savage walked up, a grin on her face, a small device in her hands. “Elaine, sweetheart, since you're here, I've been meaning to have you take a look at this.” She gave it to the young girl revealing it to be a small box with a screen and a set of buttons.
“What is it?” Elaine asked, turning it over in her hands.
“It...It was one of Clarke’s, my husband, one of his little gadgets. It's a portable electromagnetic frequency monitor. Think of it as a combination any band radio and TV as well as a couple of other tricks. I need to do my monthly sweep of the cottage...”
“Sweep?” asked Wyatt with a raised eyebrow.
Mrs. Savage cocked an eyebrow. “This is an all girl cottage, Mr. Cody, on a campus full of technical and literal wizards. Once a month we sweep the cottages for hidden cameras, observing spells and the other so-called male hijinks of boys swimming in seas of testosterone.”
“Sad,” he admitted. “Necessary, but sad.”
Trish turned back to Lanie. “It quit working last month, and I've changed the batteries, but it still won't turn on. What's wrong with it?” While the House-Mother and her boyfriend had been talking, Elaine had been intently staring at the box, turning it over and over in her hands. Now that Mrs. Savage had actually asked her what was wrong with the device, the motions became a bit frantic before she looked up, fear in her eyes.
“Ah don't know.”
Trish blinked, what her charge had said not really sinking in. “What do you mean?”
Elaine's panic turned up a notch. “Ah mean Ah don't know! Ah...Ah can't sense it! Normally when Ah concentrate on something that's broken Ah just start to 'realize' what's wrong. What the system does and where it's broken! Ah don't know what's wrong with this! Ah can't sense it at all!”
May 3RD, 2007
105.7FM, Whateley Academy
“So the big news this morning sports fans is the battle royal at Whitman Cottage. There's significant damage to the building, four blown out windows and a hole in the second floor wall. Witnesses say stone faced Whitmaniac Coldstone was mixing it up with Kodiak! A half bear form fought with the sophomore which most agree was a draw before being stopped by House-Mother Trish Savage.”
“The Hottie with the body, Dr. Goodvibes!”
“Easy, Bert, cause there's a twist to this story! It seems W.A.R.S. Shock jock Peeper happened to be over by Whitman Cottage this morning; why? Who can say? All we know is that he was near by and saw it all. Unconfirmed reports place the hole in the side of Whitman Cottage as being in the room shared by Lifeline and Loophole! None of our listeners need to be reminded about the fascinations of bears and rules lawyers, but in a surprise twist our boy Peeper claims that the Shaggy Super Jock has turned into a SHE! That right boys and girls, Peeper says our Alpha 'Male' grew himself a nice set of knockers and he has the proof he'll unveil on the Peeper and Greasy Show, coming up this morning at eleven. You're tuned to 105.7 FM, W.A.R.S, the Whateley Academy Radio Station.”
May 3RD, 2007
Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy
Steve's fist came down on the alarm clock so hard it shattered. “Easy!” cautioned Mechano Man from his side of the room as he dodged pieces. “What's got you in a snot first thing?
“That son of bitch!” swore Nalley colorfully as he scrambled out of the bed. Tupolo had been rooming with the somewhat volatile southerner enough to know when bad things were coming down the proverbial pike. This had fifty tractor trailer pile up written all over it.
Mechano Man jumped out of bed and caught a hold of his roommate. “Stephen! Getting into a fight with Kodiak isn't...”
“You're gonna tell me some boy gets caught in one of your sister's rooms you're just gonna stand by...?
“Like getting into a fight will help?” Tupolo shouted back. “Face the facts, bro, your sister is gonna date, hell, where would any of us be if somebody's sister didn't date us! You might not like the guy, but it's her choice!”
“And you getting into a fight with Kodiak only has two outcomes!” Tupolo pressed, counting off on his fingers. “One! He's amused and your rep on campus is ruined or two...”
“TWO!” shouted Tupolo. “You piss off the most dangerous fighter on this campus and he beats you to a pulp and what wonders that will do for your rep on campus! Now, do either of those outcomes help your sister? Who probably neither needs, nor wants your help?”
The younger Nalley very gallantly kept himself from pouting. “No. But I can't stand by and do nothing...!”
“What, exactly are you avenging? And ask yourself this, if Marty had a brother who decided you were the devil incarnate just because you want into her panties...”
“Hey!” Nalley protested.
“...How would you feel? Huh? Your sister's a big girl, dude. She can handle herself.” Tupolo smiled as his roomie chewed on his logic. “Hell, Steve, why don't you go spend some time with Kodiak? I hear he's a pretty fun guy to hang with. You might even like him.”
“That'll be the day,” muttered Nalley, his mind's gears turning.
May 3RD, 2007
MRI Bay 3, Radiology Department, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Despite Judicator's best efforts, while the sweat suit bottoms fit well enough that Elaine could move in them, even if they were a bit tight across her hips and had to have the draw string pulled full up on her waist, the top would never fit. Well, it would fit, but not safely. A tape measure Mrs. Savage produced told her that her chest measurement had gone from her curvy pinup of 38D to an amazonian 68E. And while she could get into the sweatshirt, it would most definitely not be decent. Instead, Mrs. Savage who at some point in her adventures had spent time in Malaysia there learning the traditional methods of wrapping a sarong, she had wrapped the bed sheet around her breasts with the remnants over her left shoulder in a way that looked like how the material was meant to be worn.
Judging from the amount of strain a discreet glance Lanie stole of the crotch of Wyatt's jeans, he seemed to approve of the look. They'd all three walked over to Doyle Medical as Mrs. Savage's club car would never take the weight of all of them and now Elaine found herself on her back, being slid into the largest of the four MRI devices at Doyle. Her mother had rescheduled her flight home, despite protestations of this being a simple, unimportant complication and was anxiously watching from the observation booth.
Before she'd been slid into the unit, she'd seen Wyatt put his arm around Mrs. Nalley in comfort and had smiled. Points for Mr. Cody? Grizzly asked.
“Indeed,” she'd said with a smile.
“Hold still please,” a voice ordered over the intercom.
“Sorry,” she replied, taking a deep breath, as much through her mouth as she could. Hospitals, she had been unpleasantly surprised to discover, stank. Chemicals and disinfectant over sickness, foulness and death, she'd never noticed it before and she hoped to never, ever smell it again as soon as she could get out of this form. She closed her eyes and focused on staying still as the machine began to make a most disturbing banging sound that was evidently normal for it.
Did they design this device to be so uncomfortable on purpose? Grizzly demanded. No, don't answer, she added, sensing Elaine was about to. Together, Lanie lead her spirit through her memories of what she knew of the device, what it did and why. Grizzly was not impressed. Overly complicated piece of noisy junk, she sniffed.
Finally the table slid back out and Elaine could let out the breath she was holding. She sat up and rubbed the back of her head where the hard plastic 'rest' had been. Inside the operators booth, she could see that Doctors Hewley and Aranis were beside themselves with excitement. The nurse nodded that she could get up and did so, ducking her head to get through the door to join everyone there. “Will Ah live?” she asked with a smile, but the joke fell flat at her mother's panicked reaction.
“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Dr. Hewley was gushing. “Oh, Loophole, you're a godsend!”
“Glad Ah could help,” she replied. “What did Ah do?”
“We've never had a complete brain scan of an avatar pre- and post manifestation!” Dr. Aranis informed her. “And because your ability to understand systems was so rare, you are one of the best documented mutants on file. We have scans from last year and can compare them to after your meta-gene complex activated and now that you're an avatar we can compare that!”
“Why doesn't mah power work?” Lanie demanded. “Mah system sense?”
Dr. Hewley was concerned, “It's stopped working?”
“Yes!” Elaine complained. “Mrs. Savage had something she wanted me to fix and Ah can't sense it at all!” The two typed furiously for a moment, bring up MRI images of varying date stamps. Finally they came to a consensus and pointed to an area on her brain.
“Look here, Loophole, this is scan of when you first went through power's testing,” Dr. Aranis told her. “We noted this anomaly in your somatosensory cortex then...”
“Is my daughter all right?!” demanded Mrs. Nalley who had just about had enough of the pair.
Both scientists had the grace to be contrite. “We're very sorry, ma'am,” Dr. Hewley apologized. “Yes, your daughter is perfectly fine...”
“She is not perfectly fine!” Mrs. Nalley thundered. “She looks like a seven foot tall pornographic cartoon! And now you tell me there are brain anomalies? Is that your measure of fine Dr. Hewley?!”
The round faced scientist blushed. “I beg your pardon, madam. Here, let me show you.” He turned monitor around where everyone could see it. “The somatosensory cortex is the region of the brain where your senses are interpreted, but the largest portion of it is the tactile area, here, for your sense of touch.”
“Your skin is the largest organ of the body and so the area that interprets it is correspondingly large in relation to sight, sound, etcetera,” Dr. Hewley injected. “Here, this is an MRI of a non-mutant human brain. See the difference?”
“What's that bulge?” asked Elaine.
“That,” Dr. Aranis replied with a smile and a nod that she was keeping up, “seems to be the source of your systems understanding. This region is cross wired if you will all over your brain in ways that are remarkable, even for a mutant. A number of the connections don't seem to make sense at first but when we came to understand what you could do it made sense that there was some area of your brain that had to be processing all that information. You see from your post meta-gene complex activation the area is actually slightly larger.”
“So why doesn't it work?” she demanded, frustrated.
Dr. Hewley held up a finger and moved to the human image in the MRI they'd caught. “We'll know better once you're no longer manifesting Grizzly and can get a proper scan, but this leaps out. There is a new, uh, development in the gustatory and olfactory cortexes that's displacing the vestibular cortex into your somatosensory cortex...”
“English, Doc!” complained Wyatt seeing the growing dismay on both ladies faces.
“Sorry! Your Gustatory and Olfactory cortex handle your sense of taste and smell. They're much larger...”
“Because bears can smell so well,” she finished, grasping where he was going. “But what's this vestibular cortex thing...?”
Dr. Hewley nodded. “It's not important. What is important is that the increased size of your Gustatory and Olfactory Cortex have it pressing on your somatosensory cortex. Your brain is naturally scaling back the area that your power needs to keep the, er, swelling, for lack of a better word from being severe.”
Elaine paled. “So...Ah...Ah won't, ever...?”
“No, no!” interjected Dr. Aranis. “This is new. Eventually your brain will come to an understanding and balance things out. You'll probably not smell or taste as you do now, and your systems intuition will probably not be as fast, but I'd expect it would start working again.”
The two doctors shrugged. “It could take some time, Loophole. The brain is a complicated organ. We'll have a better idea once we have better scans of your brain without your spirit manifested.” He sighed. “But, the brain doesn't like to be disturbed like this. It could be...well, years.”
“Years?!” shrieked the bear, loud enough to rattle the windows of the booth.
“You don't know anything of the sort, Jean-Michael!” snapped Doctor Hewley. “Why would you say such a thing? There's no data to back up...”
Mrs. Nalley stepped forward and with remarkable calm held up her finger. “Doctor, while I am sure whatever you were just discussing was very important to my daughter, my patience is nearly gone. I must insist you explain to me why my daughter is a seven foot tall bear and how she will become human again, or I will be forced to take action I shudder to contemplate.”
“Er,” stammered Dr. Hewley. “What you are seeing, ma'am, is a manifestation of the spirit Grizzly that Loophole bonded with a few days ago.”
“What does that even mean?” the frantic mother demanded.
Dr. Aranis laid a hand on his colleague’s shoulder. “Madam Loophole, what you perceive to be this form is a kind of metaphysical energy. This is not your daughters body, it is the 'soul' of the spirit Grizzly being projected into our reality. Your daughter's physical body is tied to it, but the actual atoms are in a state of flux. They travel between the spirit realm that lays over our reality and here. Look.”
“Ah'm not here?” asked Elaine quizzically.
I think you're all there, Grizzly said with a chuckle. Watch.
The doctor pressed a button that showed a side view of the MRI scan. In it, what seemed obviously to be the skull of an ursine hominid lay. He advanced the slide and suddenly it was gone. “What happened!” asked Mrs. Nalley.
“Oh, we were confused too!” Dr. Hewley added. “Then went to a whole body scan and we saw this.” He showed an image of the odd Ursine Hominid and advanced it until it arrived at a frame where the scan showed a normal human girl, then the next frame was back to the hybrid. “That change took place in one one hundred thousandth of a second. It took us nearly an hour to catch it, and even then it was blind luck.”
Dr. Aranis gestured for Mrs. Nalley's hand, and when she gave it, brought up to touch her daughters arm. “I know it feels real, but it's not actually solid, it's...well, we don't have a name for it. They call it 'ectoplasm' in the movies, but even that is not right. This...energy... is projected from the spirit realm, through the 'hole' in reality if you will, that was made when your daughter bound Grizzly to herself. Her body, the atoms of it, are bouncing back and forth between our reality and the spirit realm so quickly that the energy feels solid, but we 'see' her as Grizzly.”
The bear woman spoke through her avatar to Lanie's mother. “Mrs...um...'mom', can I...?”
“Fine,” the teacher growled.
“Well, mom, I reside in a sub-dimension next to this one, there is a student who could bring you into it if you'd like. La...er...Loophole is here and she's fine, I swear. This is just one of the abilities I give her to keep her safe.”
“How does this keep her safe?!” the distraught mother demanded.
“Gentlemen, please excuse me,” the spirit said to the researchers, before she reached out and picked up both Doctors and held them out at arms length, one handed. “Because I make her much stronger than she was, and a weapon strong enough to hurt her like this requires a vehicle to move it.”
“I've been shot that way by .50BMG,” put in Wyatt. “Left a welt, but that was about it.”
Mrs. Nalley's face paled. She was well acquainted with the .50BMG, her husband desperately wanted one of Ronnie Barrett's rifles, but so far, good sense, and their twelve thousand dollar price tag had deterred him. “I would like to see my daughter, Grizzly.”
The big bear nodded, carefully setting the researchers down. “Of course, ma'am. Right this way.”
“Why can't you just...?”
“Undo this?” Grizzly asked. “It happened in our sleep. We're still working that out.”
May 3RD, 2007
Classroom 312, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Ms. Grimes had been building herself up to a lecture, again, about the need to conserve essence for any magic user, with the school's intercom box on the wall above the blackboard crackled to life. “Ms. Grimes?” None of the students in the class could make out who was speaking, the system dated to the sixties and it's fidelity was terrible, but for some reason that didn't bother Ms. Grimes.
“Yes, Mrs. Shugendo?” she replied, talking to the wooden box on the wall, just below the ceiling that held the speaker and microphone.
“Please forgive the interruption, would you please have Miss Franks come to administration?”
“Certainly,” she said. “Miss Franks?” Kayda rose, wondering vaguely if she were in trouble, moving quickly out the door, before Ms. Grimes remembered her conditions. Kayda grinned to herself, not having to deal with a chaperone and made her way thought the halls before she passed the statue of Nicholas Kirby, who the plaque told her had been the third Chancellor of the Old School.
It was an eerie statue, dark bronze that was black with age, in the main foyer of the building where he stood with his arms crossed, looking down on everyone, a determined frown set on his face. Kayda couldn't help but wonder why his back was to the door, looking into the building, where most such statues faced it, welcoming the students inside. A shudder ran through her as she passed it and once more she was out on the quad.
It was a very pretty morning, with clear skies and rising temperatures, even though it was yet another Red Flag day. Why became apparent as an ambulance came roaring down Whateley Boulevard on its way to Doyle Medical. For once, at least, nothing untoward happened and she was quickly in Schuster Hall and being ushered back to a conference room. There she found Mrs. Shugendo along with another, older woman with black hair what was starting to get gray in it, Wyatt Cody and a poor girl with really advanced GSD. “Mrs. Shugendo?”
“Come in, Kayda,” the Dean greeted. “I believe you know Mr. Cody and Miss Nalley?”
Kayda started in surprise. “Lanie?!”
The bear woman only smiled and nodded. “Like the new look?” she asked. “Ah woke up this morning and decided Ah just had to change everything.” The stranger obviously did not appreciate the humor in the situation and glared at the bear girl.
Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat. “Allow me to introduce Mrs. Nalley, Elaine's mother.”
“How do you do?” Kayda asked, offering a hand to be shook. Mrs. Nalley gave the briefest nods to such pleasantry, her face had been worry filled, but now was becoming stern.
“Do I understand correctly that you are responsible for merging this...spirit I believe is the correct word... with my daughter?”
“No!” interjected Lanie before Kayda could respond. “Ah am responsible. Ah interviewed Grizzly, Ah researched the subject when the offer was made and Ah made the decision to join with her. Not Kayda, me.” Mrs. Nalley's eyes hadn't left the young Lakota girl's face.
Kayda licked her lips, wondering if this woman was a teacher. She certainly was an expert in The Stare. “Mrs. Nalley, I did preform the ritual that bound Elaine to Grizzly, yes, at her request. That part I accept responsibility for.” The intense glare softened ever so slightly so Kayda risked asking, “What happened?”
“Ah woke up this way,” Lanie replied with a shrug.
“She's manifesting Grizzly,” Wyatt added, “so she should be mostly in Grizzly's hallow.”
“Dream-Space,” Kayda corrected without thinking about it. Turning to Mrs. Shugendo, she asked, “You want me to Dream-Walk Mrs. Nalley to Elaine's Dream-Space?”
“If you wouldn't mind?” Mrs. Nalley answered for the Dean.
“I'd be honored to,” Kayda said, and meant it. Mrs. Shugendo smiled.
“I'll leave you alone then. You won't be disturbed here.” She withdrew and shut the convergence room door. Kayda led everyone over to the comfortable looking leather seats that ringed the table and pulled one out for Mrs. Nalley.
“You'll want to sit down,” she said as Cody offered a chair for Elaine she declined and sat down on the floor, not trusting the chair to support her. Mrs Nalley sat, somewhat rigidly. “Try to relax, ma'am. This will feel a bit strange at first. You will find yourself somewhere else. Do not panic, you will not be alone long, and I will be there in just a moment. Just, don't move, alright?”
Mrs Nalley raised her chin and nodded. Kayda reached out and touched her fore head, immediately causing her eyes to close. Cody sat down next to Elaine. “Send me in, Coach. I'll keep Mrs. Nalley out of trouble.” Kayda arched an eyebrow at the metaphor's, but also touched his forehead.
“How does this work?” asked Elaine from the floor.
“You'll have to let Grizzly guide you back to your own Dream-Space,” Kayda told her. She concentrated on her astral sight as Elaine took a deep breath and closed her eyes, obviously skeptical. Kayda smiled as she 'saw' the bear spirit gently reach through reality and bring her into her realm. “Told ya,” Kayda triumphed as she sat in one of the remarkably comfortable chairs and let her spirit leave her body.
Kayda was once more at the Medicine circle, just out side the mythic village that made up her Dream-Space breathing deeply of the fresh air and enjoying the calm before she opened her eyes to find a distraught looking Mrs. Nalley standing over her. “Is this a joke?” she demanded in that deceptively soft way Kayda had come to associate with teachers and again wondered about the woman's profession.
Mrs. Nalley had been a bit pump in reality, soft in the way that most middle aged American's were, but the woman who stood over Kayda was neither. The woman herself was hard her bare arm had visible muscle and there was something about her eyes that said she was in charge and used to getting her way. She was dressed in a richly died linen tunic that left her right arm bare and pants with fox fur at the cuff and collar. There was a sash of a plaid tartan over the blue tunic over the left shoulder. Her arm and neck were tattooed in geometric and knot work designs and her hair was kept from her eyes by a magnificently crafted gold diadem that was probably worth a king's ransom. It was matched by bracelets and an arm band.
Wyatt, on the other hand, looked like someone who would grace the cover of a role playing rule book, rich green tunic, brown leather pants and boots with a dull red cape and a sword hanging from his belt. Kayda stood slowly, wishing her spirit self had a bit more on than a midriff top and a miniskirt. “Mrs. Nalley, I promise, I'm not making fun of you,” she said sincerely.
“This is the outfit Aunghadhail put me in,” Wyatt observed. “How do you know about it?”
“She didn't 'put you in it,'” Kayda corrected. “This is a reflection of who you really are and where you are descended from,” she said, turning back to the older woman. “Mrs. Nalley, Lanie tells me that evidently she is descended from Picts and Scots, so naturally, you would also be, that's why you appear this way.”
The other rolled her eyes. “A Latin teacher descended from the people Rome exterminated, oh the irony,” she commented drolly. She looked down at her arm and back at the Lakota girl. “Did I mention I despise tattoos?” Kayda wanted to cringe, but realized she was smiling and trying to make light of the situation.
“I dunno,” started Wyatt, but the glance he got told him silence was golden.
Kayda was very proud of herself for not laughing. “This way,” she said, setting off at a light, but determined pace away from village. A dense, primordial forest grew up, just past the hill they were descending, one that technically had no business anywhere near the plains they were on. “Spirit world,” Kayda heard Wyatt tell Mrs. Nalley. “Rules need not apply.”
“There are rules,” Kayda corrected him. “They just change.”
“So, like the Pirate Code they're just guide lines?” he asked with a chuckle. Kayda shook her head and kept walking. The primordial forest gave way to a pleasant wood, and then a beach. Kayda found her Lakota Rave outfit had given way to a two piece swimsuit that had a short skirt tied across her hips. She turned to see Mrs. Nalley in a modest one piece she was wearing a pair of cut off jeans over and Wyatt had the most outrageously colorful pair of mid-thigh trunks she'd ever seen. Off to her right, Kayda saw a sail boat at anchor and heard a gasp from Mrs. Nalley.
“I'm home!” she exclaimed. She turned and pointed across the water at another shore with a sizable building that was too big to be just a 'house,' but yet too small for a mansion sat on a hill, over looking the water. “That's my house!”
“Mom!” called Elaine from down the beach. She was trotting forward with a huge Grizzly bear beside her. Not that the bear deterred Mrs. Nalley at all. The teacher ran forward and embraced her daughter, obviously over joyed.
Kayda and Wyatt gave them a moment as they approached, suddenly realizing The Kodiak was also there. He walked up cautiously to Grizzly who allowed him to nuzzle her. “See?” Lanie demanded. “It's just a new power Ah got to get a handle on, that's all.”
“I can manifest Kodiak as well,” Wyatt assured the mother with an absent scratching of his spirits' ear. “Oh, Mrs. Nalley, May I present the Kodiak and Grizzly?”
“So, you really are bears?” she asked, but the words were barely out of her mouth before a gruff, macho biker with a magnificent handle bar mustache stood before her with his amazon 'bird' next to him, both in beach wear.
“We're spirits,” The Kodiak corrected her. “What you see is just a perception, a way for you to communicate with us and grasp a concept you have no experience with otherwise.”
“As you doubtlessly discovered when you appeared in Kayda's dream-space,” Grizzly added. “Perceptions can change.” She turned to the biker and said, “I want you to take a look at Elaine.”
“What's wrong?” he asked, his form shimmering from beach wear to an almost absurd image of surgical scrubs until the beach wavered and became some kind of hospital diagnostic ward.
“The interface of my spiritual binding to her hallow caused her brain to react with swelling of the Gustatory and Olfactory Cortex,” she replied, her own swimsuit changing to look like a competent, but over worked ER Nurse. The Kodiak stepped forward and made a gesture around Elaine's head, causing a three dimensional representation of her brain to appear in the air in front of him.
“That's not terribly uncommon, especially with the ritual that was used on a non-genetic expanded avatar...”
“It's interfering with her primary mutation,” Grizzly interrupted, keeping to the practical the way all great nurses did when doctors began to get theoretical. “See how it's dislodging the vestibular cortex?”
“There is some irritation, yes. Elaine...”
“That's the first time you've ever used mah name,” the red head observed softly. “Am Ah finally a person to you?” The doctor 'pushed' the hologram to one side so as to look his patient in the eye.
“Where things mattered, you were always a person. And you always will be,” he said, chagrined. “I wish I had some excuse other than I am old in ways you cannot imagine, child and your existence will be a blink of the eye to what I have endured. But that is not an excuse. My oath to Aunghadhail did not release me from my oath to do no harm. Please allow me to make amends.”
Elaine sighed and nodded which pleased Kodiak and he patted her knee. “Now, I understand from my host that your power does not work on magic, is that correct?” He watched her nod again and indicated the padded bench she was sitting on. “What is the function of this device?”
Lanie looked down at the bench while Kodiak called up her brain scan again and gently manipulated it. “Ah...Ah don't...” she stammered, then something seemed to catch her attention. “There...there are...something...and they enter me through the pad and...and...they make that image, but...Ah'm not sure...”
“I could direct the swelling in different directions, but that may affect her natural senses in ways I'm not willing to experiment with,” Kodiak mumbled to himself.
“Lanie...Lanie lost her gadgeteering?” whispered Kayda.
“Elaine what is the correct engine timing for a 289 V8 Ford?”
“Six degrees from top dead center, adjusted with the vacuum line disconnected,” she replied instantly.
“No,” Kodiak replied with a chuckle.
“That doesn't prove anything!” Kayda exclaimed. “She's a mechanic! She knows...!”
“Fine!” the Kodiak growled. “Elaine, how could you fix your Pocolda so that it was strong on both sides?”
“Ah...” she stammered. “Ah...think...” The hologram of her brain began to swirl in a rainbow of colors. Lanie grimaced and brought a hand to her head as though she was in pain. “Ah...Ah would have to...” The rainbow shifted into the red spectrum and the other hand came up to her temple. “The...the lattice has to hold...God, it hurts!”
“Stop it!” screamed Mrs. Nalley.
“Restrain yourself, madam!” The Kodiak growled. “Tell me! How!”
“The...ugh...the radical...mama, it hurts!”
“Answer!” Kodiak demanded, taking a hold of Mrs. Nalley to prevent her from rushing to her daughter.
A trickle of blood came down from Elaine's left nostril. “The...the loose radicals have...God! Have to be locked into the...the...lattice...” her explanation stuttered down into a scream of pain as Mrs. Nalley finally broke free of the Kodiak and held her daughter. Elaine was crying and Kayda was horrified.
“No,” the bear said finally. “She has not lost her gadgeteering ability.” He sighed and laid a hand on the girls' head. “I'm sorry,” he told her, his hand glowing softly for a moment. Elaine sighed in relief.
“It hurt,” she whimpered.
“I know,” Kodiak assured her. He turned to Grizzly. “Can you alter your pattern overlay and map to a dexter orientation with her BIT?” Grizzly shook her head.
“I had to bond widdershins because of her handedness. Our bonding was very strong, I'm not sure it could be broken and if so, that may do us both more harm than I'm willing to risk happen to her.” Grizzly declared, but the Kodiak frowned and turned back to Elaine.
“You are left handed?”
“No,” she replied.
However, at the same time both Grizzly and her mother said, “Yes.” Mrs. Nalley continued, “When she was little, she'd always start to reach for everything with her left hand and we would take it away and put it in her right hand. South paws have such a terrible time with...” She grown to a halt at the expression on his face. “What? Did I...?”
“No, madam, this is not anyone's fault,” Kodiak told her. He sighed and turned back to Grizzly, “Then she is going to have to relearn this skill again, and that's going to hurt,” he announced sadly.
A tear escaped Kayda's eye and rolled down her cheek. “I...I took away your special ability...” she whispered. “I did this...”
“Kayda,” protested Wyatt but the Lakota girl shook her head.
“No! I...I did this! After all I said and complained about wanting to be special, I took that away from her!” Elaine wiggled out of her mother's hug, wiping away the blood from her nose as she did so and walked over to her friend. At first, Kayda shrank away, fear in her eyes and just when she was going to bolt, possibly back to her body, Elaine reached out and grabbed her. “I sorry!” Kayda screamed. “Lanie, I'm so sorry!”
The red head pulled the younger girl into a hug and then held her head up and looked into her eyes. “You did nothing to me that Ah did not specifically ask for. You took nothing from me in malice, or spite.”
“But...but...” the other stammered, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“It was an accident, Kayda!” Lanie persisted. “Having a power doesn't make me special! Hell, it ain't even gone! Ah just got to relearn how to use it is all! Now, dry up those tears,” she scolded her softly. “No use crying over spilled milk! Ah got Grizzly! And for the first time in two years, Kayda, Ah feel safe! You can't know what that is worth to me.”
The Lakota girl looked up, her deep green eyes both intensely sad and certain that she had hurt her friend, and amazed to hear the forgiveness she was certain she didn't deserve. And when she stared into Elaine's golden flicked emerald eyes and the red head smiled at her she felt so warm and loved she couldn't help herself. Before either of them realized it they were kissing, arms intertwined and tongues dancing. Kayda's heart was pounding with conflicting thoughts of worry about betraying Cornflower or the half wondered thought that perhaps Debra might even want her to have somebody here at school to hold and caress and...and...Lanie was a really good kisser. And they parted, still staring into each others eyes just as Grizzly cleared her throat.
And both girls turned to see Lanie's mother and Lanie's boyfriend both with their jaws around their navels in shock. “Oh...shit,” whispered Elaine.
May 3RD, 2007
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Stephen paused, the hot dog he was enjoying halfway to his mouth as a shudder ran up his spine. Marty, who was picking at a salad while staring enviously at the hot dog noticed and cocked her head to one side. “What is it?”
Stronghold looked towards Schuster Hall through the crystal windows of the dome, a puzzled look on his face. He'd felt things like this every now and then. Not often enough that he'd call it 'twin sense', or something. Hell, he and his sister were actually over a year apart in age, so they weren't twins. But still, every so often, when one or the other of them got caught doing something really, spectacularly bad, the other would feel a chill and a general sense that something bad was on the horizon. Never, ever in his life, had Stephen felt it this strongly. “I felt a great disturbance in the Force,” he said, giving in to the intense need to quote a movie the way his sister loved doing. “As if my sister had cried out in terror and were suddenly caught by mom. I fear something dreadful has happened.”
“Yeah, ok, Obi-wan, pass the salt, will ya?”
March 10th, 1998
Chuck E Cheese's, 824 Earnest W. Barrett Pkwy, Kennesaw GA.
Lanie was beside herself with glee. This was her day. She was eight years old today. She was in Second Grade, practically on her way to third grade while her doofus brother was still a first grader with the little kids. She was a big girl now, and while the doofus got to come to her party it was her day. She got to pick where the party was going to be, and the flavors of the pizza and the cake and the ice cream and everything. And even Jennifer Martin and those snooty girls from Victoria's Landing who called her a red neck were going to come and give her presents and have to be nice to her. Won't she just spit!
And finally, finally, finally people would like her and she would be popular!
She was so excited, she could barely sit still as Dad drove their Explorer. He and mom were talking about something dumb, the way grownups did and the traffic was terrible the way it always was on Barrett Parkway and Lanie thought she was going to lose her mind before they finally they were turning in to the parking lot. And she saw all the girls in their party dresses, and she was certain her party dress was much prettier than any of theirs and it was going to be a perfect day!
Finally they parked and she was getting out and Lanie was dancing on air. She could see it in Megan and Bethany's eyes that she did have the prettiest dress and already Jennifer was getting red faced because the dumb red neck had shown her up. Lanie couldn't be happier, even her doofus brother couldn't spoil the day.
And then someone had been thrown through the door of the restaurant.
He was a skinny boy, wearing a T-shirt and jeans and his face was a bloody mess. He hit the pavement and curled into a ball slowly. He was sobbing and Lanie felt bad for him because the rainbow on his shirt was so pretty. Then a bunch of big men came out of the restaurant and they were very angry. They were shouting bad words, most of which Lanie hadn't heard before or know what they meant, but the most popular one was faggot. And they started stomping on the poor boy while he was on the ground and begging them to stop.
“Jody! Get the kids in the car!” daddy had shouted, and Mom was upset and yelling at him not to get involved.
Lanie didn't understand. She knew her day had just been ruined, but she didn't know why. She didn't know why daddy was walking towards those big bullies who were kicking that poor boy and she was afraid they would start hitting her daddy because they were all bigger than he was. And then she saw, right as Mom grabbed her that Daddy had his gun in his hand.
Daddy had always enjoyed teaching Lanie about fire arms and Lanie liked learning. She liked spending time with her father, even when he had to stress how careful she had to be with them, how she had to respect the danger they had and observe all the rules he had taught her and never, ever was she to touch one when he wasn't with her.
But more important than that, he'd told her she should never point one at somebody, the way daddy was at those bullies. He was yelling and he was angry, and the bullies were yelling at him now and there was lots of bad words. And then there was thunder even though the sky was clear blue. Twice more there was thunder and then the only sound was the boy on the ground crying and the girls were crying.
Before long there was a new sound, the sound of sirens and the police came, but before they got there, Lanie knew, knew that her day was ruined. That her one chance was gone.
She would never be liked and have friends.
May 3RD, 2007
Administration Offices Conference Room, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Elaine opened her eyes to find herself in clothing that didn't fit her at all. She had skin instead of fur, and once more Grizzly was in the back of her mind rather than manifested around her. There was an awkward rustle as everyone else came awake, but she was only aware of her mother who was staring at her. Wyatt helped her up and into a chair at the table where he kissed her cheek and whispered, “We'll talk later, family comes first.”
Lanie nodded, unable to look at anyone. “Would...?” she started, but he nodded.
“I'll run to the book store and get you some clothes,” he said.
Kayda was paused, upset for the trouble she'd landed her friend in and unsure what to do until Mrs. Nalley had surprisingly calmly asked, “Would everyone excuse us, please?” Wyatt and Kayda withdrew, quietly closing the door as they did so. Mrs. Nalley stared at her daughter staring out the window over the oval shaped white marble awning over the front doors of Schuster Hall. She had intended to let her talk first, but when it became apparent that wasn't going to happen, she asked, “What was that?”
“Ah...Ah don't...” Elaine stammered and sighed. “An accident.”
“Elaine Ethel Nalley,” her mother said firmly, “you do not accidentally stick your tongue into someone elses mouth. Now, I ask you again, what was that? And were you lying to me when you said you weren't trifling with that boy?”
“No!” she protested. “Ah...Ah, oh mom,” she whispered and put her head down on the table.
JoAnn Nalley leaned forward and rubbed her daughter's shoulder. “Talk to me, sweetheart. What is going on?”
“Ah...Ah'm bisexual, mom. Ah...Ah had a relationship with...with a girl...all last year, oh, God, this place is so fucked up!”
“Watch your language,” her mother scolded as she got her hand under her daughter's chin and lifted her head from the table. “Why have I never heard of this until now?”
“Ah was afraid,” Lanie whispered. “Of what you and dad would think...”
JoAnn swallowed. “Well, Kayda...seems like a very...nice...girl...” Elaines pent up cry that was trying to worm its way out turned into a snort of laughter.
“Kayda is a freshman, mom,” she corrected. “Her...her name was Maria.”
An eyebrow ascended her mother's forehead. “There's another girl you've been kissing?” she asked drolly.
Lanie's head hit the table. “Yes,” she admitted.
Mrs. Nalley sighed. “Elaine, it sounds like you and I need to have a little heart to heart. First, I want you to know that I...we...your father and I will love you no matter who or what you are. We didn't stop loving you or your brother because you're mutants, and we won't stop loving you because you're...gay...or whatever.” She smiled at her daughter who was peeking at her through her arm, too embarrassed to raise her head. “However, I didn't raise you to be loose and have no respect for yourself. You need to decide who it is you want to be with and stand by that decision. It is not fair to either of those girls, or to this Mr. Cody for you to trifle with all of their affections.”
“It...it was an accident, mom!” she protested. “Ah mean, Ah want to marry Wyatt! Mah wanting to have kids is why Ah broke up with Maria!”
“Kayda...Kayda confuses me,” she admitted. “It...it just happened! Ah didn't mean for it to and Ah sure didn't mean for it to happen in front of you! Mom, please don't tell daddy! Ah don't want his business to suffer...”
“Elaine,” Mrs. Nalley said softly. “We will not ever be ashamed of you. And if someone doesn't want to do business with Nalley Auto Repair because of who you love then...well...fuck them.”
Lanie launched herself into her mother's arms. “Mom Ah love you so much!
May 3RD, 2007
Campus Store, between Schuster Hall and Emerson Cottage, Whateley Academy
Wyatt was heading to the clothing section of the store, wracking his brain trying to remember if he'd ever seen a size tag on a pair of sweats that Elaine owned. Her bra size he knew, he'd looked out of curiosity while relieving her of the garment once. However, he did recall her complaining once that clothes shopping was difficult due to being top heavy. Wyatt certainly didn't think she was top heavy, and whoever had opined that breasts larger than a handful was a waste was both unimaginative and probably had small hands.
Still, knowing that he had never seen her without a bra, he'd picked up a sport model in her size and found a woman's size chart he was trying to make heads or tails of. As he was reading it over, a familiar voice behind him demanded, “What are you doing?”
Wyatt didn't turn his attention from the chart. “Shopping for your sister, actually,” he said by way of greeting. “Say, Steve, right? You wouldn't happen to know what size sweat pant she wears, would you?” He turned and found the young man staring up at him, his hands clinched in fists and his jaw set.
“I don't like you,” he said finally.
“I get that,” Wyatt replied casually. “Anything I can do to change your mind?” He saw something light behind the boy's eyes and quickly added, “Other than breaking your sister's heart and dumping her just on your say so, cause, sorry, sport, that ain't happening.”
Stephens face softened ever so slightly and it was grudgingly done. “Lanie likes you for some stupid reason and as long as she's happy I guess I don't have to like you.”
Wyatt sighed and put his shopping basket down to give his full attention to the younger man. “Look, Steve, I get you, man. You're doing the brother thing, showing the flag, family solidarity, I totally get that. I also get there's probably piles of people who've told you all kinds of crap about me and what I'm like, but I'd be willing to bet none of them were female, am I right?”
The younger Nalley blinked in surprise. “Uh, no. Well I talked about you with Marty, but she didn't come to me first...”
Cody grinned and nodded. “You want to know about me, son? Ask the women I've been with. Sure, I've got a rep, and there's a lot of hate on this campus, a lot of jealousy and a lot of BS. But I'm not that bad a guy, and whether you want to believe it or not, I really love your sister, maybe not as much as you do now, but I'm working on it. And just so you know I'm on the up and up, I won't tell you any of the girls I've been with.”
“How is that up and up?” demanded Stronghold.
“Well, first off, a gentleman doesn't kiss and tell. I might not be a gentleman, but I don't either. But every fixer on this campus could give you the list. If I give you names, you'll think I'm cherry picking to mess with you.” His hand fell heavily on the younger man's shoulder in rough affection. “Go talk to them, sport and then come judge me.”
Stronghold stared for a few minutes, thinking about what he'd said and finally nodded. “That's fair,” he admitted. “But if you...”
Cody chuckled and held up his hands. “Steve, trust me the line to kick my ass if I hurt your sister is a long one buddy, and honestly, there's much scarier people at the head of it, way in front of you. No offense.” Stronghold bristled, but kept his peace. “Now, your sister is in a conference room in Schuster and needs some new clothes, for reasons I had nothing to do with. So, give me the hook up, will ya? What's her size?”
“Well, she's a medium in pants,” Steve admitted, picking up a pair of black sweat pants with Whateley Academy down the right leg in gold.
May 3RD, 2007
The Crystal Hall Terrace, behind Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
In the protected 'wings' created by Schuster Hall and next to the imposing geodesic dome was a concrete and stone patio that in the brief 'nice' months of weather the school enjoyed was a favorite hang out spot. There were tables and vending machines, covered awnings, candles on the tabletops for romantic twilight meetings of young love and a collection of propane area heaters that extended the use of the terrace far beyond what it otherwise might have been.
It was here that a number of the campus fixers and business minded young people set up shop. And while nothing crass was ever spoken out in the open, the talk was you could get or arrange just about anything on the Terrace.
Including hiding bodies, or so the stories went.
From the Campus Store, Steve went straight to the Terrace, determined to get some reliable intel. If he'd been wrong, he was man enough to admit it, and if he was right, well, he'd certainly be in the right place to do something about it. There were any number of fixers on hand, all of them studiously appearing to be studying, or reading, or just enjoying the weather. The observant saw they were all eying who went by and the book's pages didn't turn often enough and the tablets weren't the focus of anyone's attention. It was a nice selection and for a moment Steve considered going to Ayla. He'd had the straight dope on Marty, but his pride still stung from their disastrous first meeting.
Jadis, who was sipping some kind of coffee drink judging from the insulated cup, leapt to his attention and he noticed she was looking at him. She certainly didn't seem to be on the path to follow her father, but Stronghold hadn't spent that much time around her. He realized a moment too late that he was staring and she held up a hand with a come hither gesture. Stephen sighed and walked over. “As I'm not even playing the same game as Marty Penn, let alone being in the same league, I'm certain you weren't checking me out as a girlfriend replacement,” she greeted.
Steve blushed and gave a little bow from the neck. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare. And no woman should compare herself to another,” his southern manners had him saying before he could bite his tongue.
A perfectly arched white eyebrow shot up Jadis' forehead. “If you burst into a rendition of 'Every Woman Is Beautiful,' I'm going to have to hit you, just on general principals.”
“My singing teacher told me to take up dancing,” Steve said with a grin and actually got a surprised laugh out of Jadis.
“Well played, Mr. Nalley,” she complimented. “And you've certainly done your part to keep the reputation of Southern men all being charming rogues well entrenched.” She gestured to the bench next to her and he sat down. “What can I do for you?”
“Er,” he stammered, not quite sure how to phrase what he wanted. “It's a little hard to explain...”
“Stronghold,” she told him with a smile. “I am the daughter of a major super villain, nothing you say can surprise me. Now, obviously it's not something normal and as you've just come from the campus store based on where I first saw you, I presume its not something they can order?”
“Oh,” he exclaimed, noting that she had been observant enough to figure out where he was coming from and making a mental note not to be so unobservant himself. “No, it's...I need some information, actually. A list of...well please excuse me, Dad always said if you have to ask how much something is, you generally can't afford it, but...”
“Your father sounds like a wise man,” she agreed. “Information is largely priced on how difficult it is to get, how badly others don't want it known and of course exclusivity desired if you don't want me selling it to others. What would you like to know?”
“I need a list of all the girls Kodiak, Wyatt Cody, has been in relationships with,” he said awkwardly. She blinked in surprise, but otherwise stayed stone faced, then there was something about her eyes that said she was puzzled and intrigued.
“Fairly common knowledge, no secrets there. Why?”
“Well, you know about my sister...” she nodded, an unreadable expression on her face. “I don't like Wyatt, and from what I've heard about him, I don't have any reason to. But, as he pointed out, everything I know about him is from other guys who probably have an ax to grind. He said if I want to know who he really is to talk to some of the girls he's been with.”
Again, Jadis blinked in surprise. “And he didn't tell you himself?” Steve shook his head.
“He said he doesn't kiss and tell. He also said that if he gave me names, I might think he was cherry picking.”
She took a pen from her ear and scribbled what looked like gibberish to his eye on a legal pad next to her beverage. “I see I have seriously underestimated Mr. Cody,” she said from her writing. “That knowledge, and a refill of my coffee should serve as payment for a list of his conquests,” she told him, holding up her cup. “Pike's Peak Blend and bring me two creamers and five sugar packets. Sugar in the raw packets, they're brown.”
Steve immediately stood and reached for the cup she held out, then stopped. “You trust me not to...?”
“Spike it?” she asked with a smile. “You're a hero wannabe,” she said, ticking off her points on her fingers. “I've seen the way you fight and you're upfront, man to man. While you're obviously clever, you're not especially devious, if my father had harmed someone close to you that you might be looking to avenge you would have led with it when we first met. And the camera coverage between here and the coffee bar in the Crystal Hall is excellent, which means if you do spike my coffee, there will be video of it and you'll be expelled.” She smiled like shark.
“Two creams, five sugars,” he said with a smile and walked back into the hall. By the time he'd finished and acquired a bottle of coke for himself and was back out to the Terrace, she was finishing writing on the pad and tore the page out to hand to him as he laid out the coffee, sugars, half and half tubs and a plastic spoon.
“So thoughtful,” she complimented, beginning to empty the packets into the coffee. “Here is your list.”
He looked down and started. “There have to be thirty women on this list!”
“Twenty seven,” she corrected, adding the half and half while stirring slowly. “And they're just the ones actually known to have had some kind of relationship with Wyatt. The suspected list is longer.”
“What kind of asshole is this clown?” he demanded, outraged.
Jadis paused mid sip and looked at him archly. “We didn't contract for my opinion,” she told him. “However, if you're willing to owe a favor, I'll be willing to discuss the subject.” Steve blinked and narrowed his eyes, he knew a sucker bet when he heard one.
“How big a favor?” he demanded. Jadis just smiled and scribbled some more gibberish on her pad.
“You're going to be dangerous in a few years,” she complimented. “Small, nothing that violates your ethics or sense of honor. You can refuse once on those grounds if I've misread you, but more than that will make the scope of the favor increase. I won't ask you to physically harm anyone else, though what I have you acquire might be harmful to someone's reputation. I won't ask that of you if it concerns anyone you're connected with, your sister, Marty, your room mate, etc. Deal?”
“Would such acquisitions get me in trouble with the school, police, or government?”
“I only contract off campus work specifically articulating that,” Jadis replied, blowing on the coffee to cool it a bit before re-affixing the lid of the cup. “So no, whatever I ask for would be on campus. I'll endeavor to make it something that will not result in corrective actions from the faculty, but if that is a possibility, I'll also provide a detailed plan, that if you stick to it, will keep you from such actions.”
“And if I do and your plan fails?”
“Did I say years?” she asked with her shark smile. “In such an event the favor will reverse to me and you'll have a marker I'll cash. Fair enough?” He nodded and they shook on it. “Alright, so Wyatt Cody, until this year, was a thug. Fun enough to hang with, so long as things went his way. Although if he demanded something and someone stood up to him, perversely, he would become friends with them. His best friend is Pendragon, who was his room mate until he got the single in Melville this year. I wasn't here, you understand, but the story goes that some time early on Wyatt wanted to decide the pecking order between himself and Arthur.”
“How did that work out?” She nodded from her sip, as if expecting the question.
“Violently,” Jadis replied. “He told Arthur how things were going to be, Arthur told him what to go do with himself, Wyatt asked if he wanted to put his face where his mouth was, and it was on.” The white haired girl shook her head, causing it to whisper across the shoulder's of her Rogers School Uniform blazer. “I've heard four or five different versions of this fight. They all agree it started in their room in Melville, but someone, accounts differ as to whom, got thrown through the wall and out onto O Henry Hill. The other leaped out in pursuit and they started duking it out, right there on the lawn. Mr. Forest tried to break it up, but he's a base line and both boys were serious by that point. This wasn't horse play anymore. That's when it happened.”
Steve frowned. “What?”
“Mrs. Carson got involved,” Jadis replied. “Swooped in all Lady Astarte, power and the glory and figured that would be enough to stop them. In my tenure here it's the only mistake I've ever heard that she's made. She went in and separated Arthur and Wyatt, but Wyatt had already committed to a swing. Caught her right here,” she said, pointing to where her jaw met her skull, just under her ear.
“Accounts differ whether Wyatt only stunned her or whether she was actually knocked out. Either way the fight stopped, and give the big man props, he was instantly contrite that he'd hit a woman. They both got a month of detention; and not pulling weeds either. Sewer work,” she grinned. “You know what that's like, don't you? But from that point forward, Wyatt and Arthur were damn near inseparable. You'd think either one would nurse a grudge, but Arthur keeps going on about what a great man Wyatt is and Wyatt, hell the sun rises out of Arthur’s ass to hear him tell it.”
Steve shrugged, not as surprised as Jadis would have thought. “Some guys admire other guys that stand up to them. That I'd heard. And I'd heard about his rep being the campus ladies man, but god damn!”
“What you suspect isn't the half of it,” Jadis replied. “Two of those girls were bisexual that Wyatt coaxed out of relationships with other girls. One went back to girls exclusively, the other is batting seventy/thirty girls vs boys. One was, until that point, a dedicated lesbian.”
“No way!” the boy replied. “He's so good he got a man hater to switch sides? Who was this? I have to talk to her.”
“I wouldn't recommend it,” Jadis returned with a smile.
“She is your sister.”
For a long moment the boy just stared at her, then his face suffused with blood, turning such a ruddy shade that Jadis' off hand went to her spell slip case at her belt under the table. “Excuse me?” he finally demanded.
“Calm down, or this conversation is over,” Jadis warned. The boy clinched and unclenched his fists and then closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing in a zen technique that had Tatsuo Ito written all over it.
Finally he took a drink of his coke and opened his eyes. “I apologize. Please clarify your previous statement.”
Jadis didn't take her hand off the case, but allowed the boy was attempting to control himself. “Well, I'm sorry you're obviously learning this from me. Your sister was in a relationship all last year with a female senior codenamed Songbird.”
Steve blinked in surprise. “Wait...that Spanish girl from New York?”
The white head dipped in acknowledgment. “None, other. They broke up right at the end of the year and it was a big blow up everyone agrees. Then, just after Christmas, your sister the Lesbian has the hots for, goes after and seduces Wyatt. Understand that, he didn't really pursue her, she went after him.”
Steve stared off at the Crystal Hall for a long moment. “Lanie is gay?” he muttered in disbelief.
“Bisexual would seem to be the better definition,” Jadis replied with a frown and a sip of her coffee. “I wouldn't figure you would have an issue with things like that, considering who you are swapping spit with...”
Stronghold immediately became angry. “Who told you...?”
“I was on the same train you were,” she reminded him. “And Mrs. Carson sent me to bring you two down to go to dinner in the dining car. I can't help it if you two were loud in your 'private' conversation.” She took another sip of her coffee. “So, how about it? You don't care about Marty...”
“Marty is a girl,” he declared flatly. “Marty wants to be a girl, Marty is becoming a girl and that's all there is to it.”
“And if she wasn't?” Jadis asked. “Would you still be so smitten?”
“That, Ma'am, is none of your business.”
Jadis nodded. “Touche,” she conceded. “Look, for what it's worth, I don't recommend you talk with Tansy. Or rather, let me save you the trouble. She hates Wyatt's guts and she hates them because she was using him to be top Alpha and he used her back just long enough to cement his position as Top Alpha then tossed her on her blonde ass.”
Steve nodded, brooding still. “I know what a bitch she is. Who can give me the real story?”
She took the list back and scanned it. “I don't really recommend Poise, she and your sister have a thing...”
Stronghold blinked. “How many girlfriends has my sister had?”
The nearly musical chuckle from her was a surprise. Jadis had a lovely speaking voice and her laugh was quite pleasant to the ear. He wondered if he should tell her that, or if she'd take it as him being forward. “No, not anything like that. Last year, the Whitmaniacs pulled a major prank on Poise, turned her room upside down. Literally. All her furniture was on the ceiling. She's certain, correctly by the way, that your sister had a major involvement with the prank. Poise doesn't usually hold grudges, but that was pretty epic. She's probably not inclined to be generous helping Loophole.”
“Ok, so who do you recommend?”
Jadis's eyes scanned the list, taking another sip, and then she turned it back to him and pointed to a name. “Her, Bridget Johnson.”
“I know Bridget!” he exclaimed. “She stayed at our house last summer.”
“I know,” Jadis replied with an arched eyebrow. “And, no I won't tell you how I know. You're already friends, or at least acquaintances with Bridget and as Lanie's club president, she's charitably disposed to your sister and you can trust her to give you the straight skinny. Satisfied?”
He nodded. “Yes, absolutely. Thank you. This means a lot to me.”
“Make sure you remember that when I cash in my favor.”
“I will. You have my word.”
May 3RD, 2007
The Front Steps, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Elaine watched Mrs. Carson's silver Mercedes make its way down Whateley Boulevard, waving, until it made the turn by Kirby Hall and passed out of sight. Mrs. Carson was carrying her mother to Berlin Airport to the school's Lear Jet that would fly her to Boston to get a flight to Atlanta. Elaine was also certain the two women were going to have a very detailed conversation on that drive and a part of her wondered what would be in store for her when Mrs. Carson got back with new requests from her mother.
She sank down to the steps and sighed, joined by Wyatt next to her. From somewhere he produced a pair of bottled cokes and offered her one. “Well, that's a load off, right?” he asked with a grin.
Lanie took a long sip and shook her head. “One crisis gone, and a new one staring me in the face,” she said softly. “Wyatt, about Kayda, Ah'm so sorry...”
“Hey, stuff happens,” he said quickly. He watched her surprise out of the corner of his eye and smirked. “Lanie, I could tell you hadn't meant for that to happen and you were just as surprised as we were! I know you were at the Hot Tub Social and if you got a hook up with Kayda, we weren't together, it's not my business.”
“No, honest,” she replied and hung her head. “Ah appreciate you being so cavalier about this, Wyatt, but that's not fair to you. Yes, Ah kissed Kayda at the...hey, how did you know...?”
He wiggled his eyebrows. “Baby, you don't climb to the top of this heap without friends and eyes and ears everywhere.” He shrugged and patted her on the knee. “But we're not talking about me...”
“Yes we are,” she countered hotly. “When we first got together Ah told you Ah demanded your respect! Do you think so little of me that you won't demand mine? Ah kissed a girl in front of you!”
“Are we an item?” he asked with a frown. “The other morning you were all hot and bothered that it was one big mistake and you were taking advantage of me. What right do I have to be upset with you swapping spit with Kayda?” She opened her mouth to argue, hotly, then worked it with no sound coming out. “You can't have it both ways, Elaine,” he told her sharply. “Either you are my girl, and I have a right to take exception to your kissing Kayda, or you're not in which case I don't. Which is it?”
“You're...you're trying to confuse me...!”
“No, actually quite the opposite,” he shot back. “You're confused girl, and I'm trying to help you get sorted out. You know how I feel, no sense going back over that ground. Obviously, you still have some stuff to work out so let's talk about you. You want to have kids, well that takes me, or at least some other reasonable facsimile of a member of my gender. You also like curling up with chicks, and given this campus, can't say as I blame you.”
Her face flushed. “The father of mah children will not be a turkey baster.”
He barked a surprised laugh and shook his head. “Now there's a mental image!” She hit his arm, hard. “Hey!” he protested. “You said it!” He sighed and looked about to be sure they weren't being over heard. “Ok, how about a compromise? We could try the Kodiak's plan.”
She blinked and stared at him. “What? You and me and...who? Maria? Kayda?” She snorted and took another drink of her coke. “That's perfect for you isn't it? Never mind it's nine different kinds of illegal or...”
“This isn't about me,” he told her softly. “And since when have you ever let a law keep you from doing what you want? That girl, Chou, is in a three way with that mousy little librarian assistant, Molly something and what's his name? The monk...Chain Lightning... over in Emerson...”
“Oh yes it is about you!” she shot back. “And has 'all the cool kids are doing it' ever been a good excuse?” She turned back to argue further and stopped at the expression on his face and his upheld hands in surrender.
“Look, I laid my case out the other night. My cards are on the table, but see, Lanie, you...you did something to me. I don't want to spend a minute without you and I can't imagine...” He grinned and looked away. “I'm actually kinda grateful Mrs. C is holding me back. I get another year of being around you. But if you want to be with Maria, or Kayda, or whoever. I love you, Elaine Nalley and you being happy? That...that's more important to me than you being happy with me.”
She blinked, trying to figure to out what he was trying to say. “Wyatt...?”
“If I have to share you,” he said softly. “I will. If I have to let you go, I...I will.” He smiled a smile that was so sad to watch. “You being happy, that's what's important.”
She stood her emotions in a tangle and finally, and far too quickly for her comfort, her anger won out. “You...you little bitch,” she snarled. He jerked back in surprise, his face flush. “You think Ah'm not worth fighting for? Is that how little Ah matter to you that you'll sit there and mew like a little pussy and hope Ah'll throw you a treat?”
“Who are you talking to?” he roared, pricked where it hurt, as she'd intended.
“Mah bitch evidently!” she shot back. “As if Ah'd have you! Be a man you groveling piece of shit! Are you going to sit there and let me walk all over you like a god damned throw rug? Is that how little you respect me? That you don't have the balls to call me on mah bull shit?”
He shot to his feet to tower over her, his face flush with anger. “You want me to call you a slut for wanting to swap spit with every pair of tits on this campus?”
“That's funny coming from you! Is there a cunt on this school you don't know the taste of?”
“I'm not the one stepping out on you!” he growled. “You want to whore yourself out to Kayda or some other slut that's on you but you don't get to throw my past in my face because you're the one who can't her hands to herself!”
“You wanna fight about it?” she shouted.
“You're god damned right I do!” he shouted back. “I want to pound that little Indian whore into paste for trying to take what's mine! Because I love you, you damned red headed bitch, but I can't fight about it because I don't hit women!”
“Well that's great, because Ah love you for that! And Ah love you for being the best man on this fucking campus, you hairy bastard!”
“It's about fucking time you realized it!”
From the bushes at the edge of Schuster Hall, Adam Lambert watched the Alpha Male and the Gadgeteer Goddess embrace in a searing kiss after what sounded to him like a break up fight. He blinked in surprise as the kiss became more and more passionate as Lanie leapt up and wrapped her legs around Wyatt's waist, hanging on him as he kissed her. Not that he seemed to mind. Adam sighed and shook his head. “You known John, I don't think I'll ever understand girls.”
He turned to see Peeper staring at the two upperclassmen in their passionate embrace, his mouth open, eyes wide in shock. “Peep?” he asked, prodding the other boy. “You ok?”
“I...I need to change my pants,” Peeper muttered.
May 3RD, 2007
Rm 402, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Stephen had to give the facilities guys props. The ground floor windows that had been blown out were already fixed and the hole in the wall was being rapidly patched by a pair of men, one inside the room, the other working from a cherry picker. Evidently rapid repairs were an art, not a science around here. He signed in with Mrs. Savage who gave him an odd look and trotted up the stairs to knock on the door.
“Stevie Dubya, what up?” she greeted with a shocking white smile in her milk chocolate face. She offered a fist bump he answered and came into the room as she stood aside and offered. “What can I do ya for, home boy?”
“Bridget, I don't mean to pry, but I need some straight dope and I'm hoping you can hook a fella up.”
“Mi casa es su casa, brother,” she replied, pulling out a chair and straddling it backwards while waving him down to sit on her bed. “What do you need to know?”
“I need to know about Kodiak,” he said softly. “I need to know if I need to put in the OT to get him off my sister or...” He sighed. “Or if I'm off base and I need to back off and mind my own business.”
“Who's been talking out of turn?” she asked softly. Then, just as quickly made a dismissive gesture. “It's cool. Yeah, I was Cody's case of Jungle Fever. And for a while it had me thinking I'd rather be with a white guy than...er...a brother.” He held up a hand and shook his head.
“Dash, I'm not looking to embarrass you, or dig into stuff that's not my business. Don't feel like you got to say anything like that.”
“I don't,” she said sharply. “Fact of the matter is, you want to know about the man, you got to put your nose into my business. I like your sister, little white bro, and I feel you're showing my girl respect and love, so yeah, I'm willing to part my knees so to speak, but if I hear this shit from somewhere else on this campus, we're gonna have words, Dubya, and they won't be soft ones.”
He nodded. “I'm down. And I'm sorry...”
She shrugged. “Don't be sorry. Shit is what it is. Do I regret being with Wyatt? No. On a scale of one to ten, Wyatt is like a twelve. Easy going, honest, intense, listens to what you say, knows when to hold you, when to say something and when to keep his mouth shut and let you cry. It doesn't hurt he's hung like horse and knows a girls body better than some girls I've been with.”
Steve's eyes bulged a bit at that and she laughed. “Yeah, I walk that side of the street.” She shrugged. “I'm not in the closet, but I don't wear my love life on my sleeve either. Wyatt,” she trailed off, looking back into her memory and nodding. “Wyatt's a good man, a great man when he wants to be. When we split, he already had a little blond number lined up and he still made me feel good about it.”
“That...” he started but she held up a finger.
“Stop. Get the whole story.” She sighed. “I had a scare,” she said. “Missed a month.” She saw he wasn't following her and rolled her eyes. “I thought I got knocked up, bro.”
She shrugged. “Man, did I panic. Not Wyatt, though, he didn't panic. Dude was like a rock, solid, and so confident when he kept telling me it would be alright. That I shouldn't worry because it wouldn't solve anything. And...damn, I'm sure if I had been pregnant, some how, I'm certain he would have proposed. I couldn't tell you why, I just am. When it came out I wasn't, we kind of drifted apart. And in no small part because of me.”
“Why?” he asked, confused.
Her gold eyes locked with deep green ones. “Because I was afraid of what my folks would say if I brought a white boy home. And I fucking said it enough that I'm sure, as soon as we both knew he wasn't gonna be a baby daddy, he found a way I wouldn't have to.” She laughed a hollow laugh. “Yeah, brother broke up with me to do me a favor. You want to know who Wyatt Cody is, Dubya? That's who he is. If your sis wants to be with him, then she'll fucking own him and he'll be happy and he'll make her thank God every morning she's a woman. And if she doesn't want him, he'll go, and he'll make sure he doesn't hurt her when he does. That's Wyatt Cody. Now, you do what you got to, little brother.”
May 3RD, 2007
Rm 216, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Elaine was tired as she finally got back to the cottage. It had been a hell of a day. She had to get her bedding as the construction crew didn't want any body in the room while the mortar set. As she walked tiredly from the stairs, Elaine found a folded piece of paper taped to the door with her name on it. Frowning, she pulled it off and opened it.
This is the hardest thing I've ever done.
I'm so worried about you. For months, since Christmas, I've
watched you become obsessed, really no shit dangerously obsessed.
With Wyatt, with being an Alpha, with this Wicked thing. And now
you've bonded with a spirit you barely know. Oh, girl, do you have
any idea what you've done? How dangerous, how reckless? I've tried,
Lanie, I've tried so hard to be with you, to try and talk sense, to
help, I just, I don't know who you are any more.
I'm becoming afraid you don't know who you are any more!
But now? I'm so sorry, I can't do this any more. I've never been
so scared for you, for me. Scared OF you. Terrified you'll wake up
and you won't be Lanie Nalley any more. My friend, I pray you'll
find your way and come back. Stop this. Be happy with you and what
And I'll be here.
But until then, I'm sorry, I can't. I can't go down with you.
You're drowning, and if I try to save you any more,
you'll pull me under too.
I'm so sorry. I wish to God it could be different.
Elaine noticed there were little spots of dried tears on the note and a cold feeling settled in her stomach. She got her keys out, frantic, fumbling with the lock. “Maggie?” she called. “Maggie, Ah...”
The door swung open and the room was still a little cold and damp from being exposed to the weather and the smell of the mortar and the new windows was heavy in the air. The workmen had been very careful, none of her things were disturbed, everything in it's place from where it had been that morning, when she had woken up as her spirit and had accidentally terrified her best friend. And that her things were so normal and so in place made it so macabre, because there was an invisible line down the center of the room. Maggie's posters were off the wall, her bed was just a bare mattress and pillow. Her wardrobe stood open and empty and even the little potpourri petals she lined the side of her desk with were gone, just leaving the empty desk as forlorn as an abandoned building.
Or an abandoned friendship. All of Maggie's things were gone.
The paper slipped from Elaines' hand as her eyes filled with tears and they began to flow down her face as she faced the loss of her best friend. She stumbled backwards until her legs found her bed and she half sat, half fell, turning into a ball away from the empty side of her room, the empty side of her soul and wailed out her grief.