I stared into the bathroom mirror, barely recognizing the face that stared back. This was nothing new for me though. I hadn’t even gotten used to my previous appearance, and now I had another new one to deal with.
Of course, Jake had changed his appearance too, at least a little. He’d bleached his formerly dark brown hair, so that it was now blonde, and was wearing a different style of clothes. The changes weren’t large ones, but they worked, especially since Kraesse and his people probably weren’t very familiar with Jake. However, Kraesse had been looking for Aunt Dora for a long time, and was very familiar with what she…with what I looked like.
The Pandora blueprint made us all look as if we could be anywhere between twenty-five and thirty-five years old. Aunt Dora usually wore nice clothes and makeup, which along with her confidence and maturity, pushed the impression she gave people, towards the higher end of that scale. I couldn’t pull that off, so was intentionally trying to push my image towards the lower end. That apparent age difference between me and Aunt Dora, would help to obscure my identity and make it more difficult for anyone to recognize me.
One of the first things I’d done this morning, was to cut off the long and beautiful hair that Aunt Dora had been so proud of. Then, I’d gone to a nearby salon to have it styled and colored. Though I’d kept the dark hair color, I now had shoulder length hair, with streaks of dark blue.
I was currently wearing a lot of dark clothes, mostly in black, which was appropriate since I was going for a somewhat goth image. For the goth look, my pale skin was a definite asset. I was also wearing black nail polish and lipstick, along with a lot of eye shadow. Theressa had given me some lessons in makeup, and I might even have been getting some muscle memory assistance, but it still took me a couple tries to get it right. Add in the ring that now went through my right nostril, and a couple more rings in each ear, and I looked almost nothing like Aunt Dora. If anyone did see a resemblance, they might think I was her younger sister at best.
“Well,” I told myself with a sigh. “I never imagined that I’d go goth…or that Aunt Dora could. Hopefully, those assholes will never be able to imagine it either.”
After looking myself over and making sure that I looked different enough for this to work, I absently put a hand against my stomach and scowled. The last time I’d looked at my wound, there had been nothing left but a very faint scar, one that might very well have vanished entirely by now. However, I still felt a faint ache in my guts. I wasn’t sure if this was the residual internal damage, that was still being repaired, or if it was just my imagination.
With one more look at the mirror, and a nod of approval, I turned and left the motel bathroom. “What do you think?” I asked Jake.
Jake looked me over and nodded in approval. “I’d never guess you were the same woman.”
“That’s the whole point,” I responded.
“Between this and the fact that they no longer have the wood chip,” Jake pointed out. “We should be safe.”
“Good,” I said, picking up the black leather jacket we’d picked up at a thrift store and putting it on. It was a bit too big for me, and hung loose, but it also helped to hide my figure and worked well as part of the disguise. “So, where do we go from here?”
Jake held a hand gun out to me. I took the weapon, checked the chamber, clip, and safety like I’d been taught, and then put it into my inside jacket pocket. One thing I liked about this jacket, was that it had a few useful pockets like that. Still, I’d have to get a real holster for the gun as soon as I could.
“I have a buddy I served with in the sandbox,” Jake said carefully. “I already called him, and he’s agreed to help us out for as long as we need.” I gave Jake a worried look, but he quickly added, “I didn’t tell him what’s going on, only that I’m in trouble, and that a friend and I need to keep a low profile for awhile.”
I nodded at that, not bothering to ask Jake if he trusted this friend. If he called him for help, then that part was a given. Besides, we weren’t in a position to be really picky about the help we received.
With a deep sigh, I self-consciously touched the ring through my nostril, which was still a bit tender. In fact, all my new piercings were still a bit sore, even though the holes had already healed around the jewelry. If I was to take the new jewelry out, the holes should heal up and vanish entirely within a few minutes. Still, I was more than a little aware of new piercings, as well as all the makeup I was wearing it.
“Get used to it,” I quietly told myself. This was the look I’d picked out, to help me hide from Kraesse and his people, so I might be stuck looking like this for some time.
Jake gave me a worried look, and asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I lied, giving him a forced smile. “We should probably get going.”
Jake nodded at that, his expression turning grim and serious. He picked up the magic sword that had belonged to Cliff, and I saw a look of anger and determination flash through his eyes. “Come on then,” he said as he started for the door. “Let’s get going.”
I hated road trips. They were long, boring, and I’d recently spent far too much time traveling this way. This time, I didn’t even have my DS to keep me occupied and distracted. Because of that, I spent hours doing nothing but staring out the window and being lost in my own thoughts.
The car was an old one that Jake had bought yesterday, and it smelled of stale cigarette smoke, with residual scents of marijuana and other things I couldn’t identify, nor wanted to. However, Kraesse and his people didn’t know about it, which was a definite plus.
Glancing over at Jake, who’d done all the driving so far, I saw that his attention was firmly focused on the road. Like me, he was lost in his own thoughts, and also like me, he was processing his own grief and anger. I alternated between wanting to curl up into a ball, burst into tears, or scream in rage. I imagined that for Jake, it was much the same.
“We need gas,” Jake said, speaking for the first time in about an hour. Neither of us had said much during the drive.
Before this had all happened, I probably would have made a joke about buying a couple cans of beans, or one of those cheap gas station burritos. Instead, I merely nodded. “It’ll be good to stretch my legs a bit.”
While Jake took care of the gas, I walked around the convenience store, picking up a couple drinks and snacks. Another customer kept giving me suspicious looks, probably because of my new goth look. So, to get in character, I flipped him off. Well, that and because I was in a bad mood.
“At least I picked the right look,” I said. With the mood I was in, either goth or emo would have been appropriate.
I returned to the car a few minutes later, now fully stocked up on drinks and junk food. Jake gave me a curious look and pointed out, “That might be a bit much. We’ll be there in less than an hour.”
“You can never have too much sugar,” I said, though after all the ‘getting into character’ since my change, I couldn’t resist adding, “Even if it does all go to my hips.”
Jake’s eyes immediately went to my hips, and he looked like he wanted to say something, but he held it back. From what I’d been told, one of the benefits of being Pandora, was that other than some things, like my hair and nails, my body would resist any change. According to Theressa, that meant I wouldn’t have to worry about gaining weight and getting fat, no matter how much junk food I ate.
With a shake of his head, Jake climbed back into the car, saying, “Give me one of those Snickers…”
We were on the road again a minute later, though this time, we were a little more talkative. We kept away from the sensitive subjects, and just filled the air with random conversation, keeping us both distracted for the rest of the drive.
Eventually, we reached our destination, or at least, were close enough that it didn’t really matter much. Jake checked the directions he’d written down on a sheet of paper and carefully examined every street sign, to make sure we were going the right way.
“It should be just down this street,” Jake told me.
I looked out the window and at the houses we drove past. This area was a little like the suburbs back home, but the houses were older, more individualized, and a lot more spread out. This whole neighborhood looked like all the houses were built at different times, and by different people, rather than like my old neighborhood, where a single company had built all the houses from the same basic design, all at once.
A minute later, we stopped in front of a small house at the end of the road. It smaller than where I live…lived, but it actually had a larger yard, and appeared to be well taken care of. Jake double checked the address on his instructions, then we got out of the car and went to the front door.
Before we could even push the doorbell, the door swung open, revealing a man who looked to be in his mid-twenties. He had light brown hair and the scruffy beginnings of a beard.
“Jake,” the man exclaimed with a grin. “Did you have any problem finding the place?”
“No problems,” Jake told him. Then he gestured to me and said, “This is my girlfriend Pan…”
Jake paused at that, realizing that he’d begun saying ‘Pandora’, rather than ‘Jennifer’, which was the name we’d agreed I was going to use in my new disguise. However, he smiled and put an arm around my shoulder to cover up his mistake.
“Nice to meet you, Pan,” Jake’s friend said, holding out his hand. “I’m Dave.”
“Nice to meet you too,” I responded, shaking the offered hand.
“So,” Dave said, looking back to Dave and gesturing for us to come inside. “You got yourself in trouble.”
“Unfortunately,” Jake said as we went through the door. He gave me an apologetic look, then began to tell the story that we’d come up with. “Unfortunately, Pan and I were in the wrong place at the wrong time…along with my dad. We saw some kind of mob style hit, and then these guys decided to get rid of the witnesses. Pan and I got out of there in time, but my dad wasn’t so lucky…”
“Damn,” Dave said. “Sorry to hear it man.”
Jake nodded grimly. “We figured that it would be a good idea for us both to disappear for awhile…”
“Good idea,” Dave told him. “You two are welcome to stay here for as long as you need…”
With that, Dave turned to lead us through the house, and it was only then, that I noticed that he was not only walking with a very noticeable limp, but that he was also using a cane. He noticed my looking and paused to give me a wry grin.
“I used to be an adventurer,” he told me with a chuckle. “Then I took an arrow to the knee…”
I caught the Skyrim reference, since that was one of the games I used to play. I smiled in acknowledgment.
“Dave and I served together over in the sandbox,” Jake said.
Dave nodded at that. “Then I got caught by an IED, and my leg got pretty torn up by shrapnel. The doctors said I came pretty close to losing half of it.”
“You know,” Jake joked, “there were easier ways to get out of the Army.”
“Maybe,” Dave agreed. “But then I wouldn’t get any disability.”
“Thanks for agreeing to help us out,” Jake said. “You have no idea how much I appreciate this…”
“You’d do the same for me,” Dave commented.
I just followed behind, not saying anything as the two friends caught up. Dave gave us a quick tour of the house, including the basement, which was set up as a ‘mother in law’ suite. However, I was a bit worried about him as he slowly worked his way down the stairs.
“You two can stay here,” Dave said. “It may not be as comfortable as you’re used to, but it’s got all the amenities of home. Kitchen, bathroom, and even a gas stove in case it gets too cold.”
“This is incredible,” Jake said, looking impressed. “Honestly, I was expecting a spot on the couch…”
“The couch is pretty damn comfortable,” Dave said. “But you might have to make due with a bed.” He used his cane to point to the bedroom.
A minute later, Dave went back upstairs, leaving Jake and I behind to get settled in a bit. As soon as Dave was done, and I was sure he was out of hearing range, I fixed Jake with a flat look.
“Pan?” I asked him flatly. I’d turned down the idea of using that nickname shortly after my change, but because of his slip of the tongue, I was stuck with it. At least for now.
“Sorry,” Jake told me with a shrug. “I didn’t meant to start calling you Pandora, but it’s the only name of yours that I know, so it slipped out.”
With a roll of my eyes, I responded, “I guess I’ll have to get used to being called Pan. At least that should be easier than Jennifer.”
We looked around the basement again, noting that there were only three rooms. The bedroom, the bathroom, and the larger area that served as an open space living room and kitchen.
“There’s only one bed,” Jake pointed out.
Obviously, Dave had taken our story, of me being Jake’s girlfriend into account. “Then I guess you’re sleeping on the couch after all,” I said with a smirk. Since I was a woman now, I might as well take advantage of that by claiming dibs on the bed.
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