A Little R&R part 2

Poe Cottage, Thursday August 30th, 2007

Just a little more than a dozen Poe residents, more than half of which were freshmen, were gathered together in the dayroom. Mrs. Horton stood there with a grim expression on her face as she looked around the room, setting her eyes on each of them. When her eyes locked on me, I could see the sympathy and worry looking out.

“I would like to quash some of the rumors that I have heard going around,” Mrs. Horton announced.

“Is Roulette really dead?” Peacock asked with a worried look.

Downpour, the slender Asian girl with blue streaks in her hair, nodded at that. She had a dark and worried expression, which surprised me a bit. As far as I knew, she and Amy hadn’t even said two words to each other since arriving. Downpour tended to only hang out with the other lesbians, and generally seemed to avoid us changelings.

“Yesterday, after lunch,” Mrs. Horton continued, “Amy Maguire suffered a spontaneous burnout and was immediately rushed to Doyle. In spite of the rumors,” she looked at Peacock, “she did not die. I have been told that Amy is in stable condition and seems to have recovered from her ordeal with amazing speed. In fact, I have also been told that she will be released from Doyle shortly.”

“Thank God,” I said, letting out a sigh of relief.

The last time I visited Amy, just a couple hours ago, she’d still been unconscious. It seemed, if she was going to be released soon, that she was doing a lot better than I’d thought.

“So, she’s really going to be all right?” Hardwyrd asked.

“I am not at liberty to discuss her medical condition,” Mrs. Horton said with a gentle smile, “other than to say she is doing fine at this time.” Then she gave Hardwyrd a concerned look and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“A lot better than yesterday,” Hardwyrd said, looking uncomfortable with the way everyone turned to look at him.

Yesterday, when Amy had suddenly dropped to the ground and went into seizures, I’d been more than a little worried. However, I hadn’t been the only one. Hardwyrd had rushed to her side to see if he could help, and he’d been hurt because of it. Apparently, Amy had shifted into her energizer mode, because there’d been a flash of blue light, and suddenly, Hardwyrd was knocked out on the ground too. He’d been rushed to Doyle along with Amy, though unlike her, he’d been healed up and sent back to Poe a short time later.

“I’m surprised they’re going to release her so soon,” Martina commented. “I mean, burnouts are really serious, so she could have died… I have a hard time believing that she just shook it off so quickly…”

“As I said,” Mrs. Horton reminded her. “I am not at liberty to discuss her medical issues.” She looked around the rest of the group. “Now, please stop spreading unfounded rumors, because I do not want anyone else knocking on my door, asking when the funeral will be held.”

After that, everyone began to disperse and go back to whatever it was they were doing. My eyes went to Downpour, mostly because a small rain cloud was forming along the ceiling above her head. Downpour could manipulate the weather, and most notably, make it rain in small areas. I’d heard a couple girls talking about her power, and saying that it was a combination of energizer and manifestor abilities. I didn’t really care how Downpour could make it rain inside, only that she was obviously pretty miserable at the moment.

I thought about going over to talk to the kid, but while I was making up my mind, Cindy went and took care of that herself. I nodded faintly at that, hoping that Cindy could help the other girl, because I certainly didn’t know how to.

A minute later, I was out the door and on my way to Doyle. If Amy was awake and feeling well enough that they were going to kick her out, then she was feeling well enough that she might appreciate seeing a friendly face…especially one as cute as mine. I chuckled at the very idea, since it wasn’t that long ago, that no one would have ever referred to ‘Big Al’ Morgan as being cute.

When I arrived at Doyle, I immediately began to scowl, feeling just a little apprehensive. I’d spent far too much time in a hospital to be comfortable in a place like this. It brought back some bad memories. Almost without any real thought, I created a single ribbon, then began to absently play with it. That allowed me to distract myself as I went to Amy’s room.

I wasn’t surprised to find the door open, though I was to see Amy sitting there on the edge of the bed, already dressed and ready to go. “That was fast,” I said, announcing my presence.

“Alyss,” Amy said, giving me a self-conscious smile. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

“I don’t think you’ve been here long enough to call it that,” I pointed out wryly. “Besides, it looks like you’re already set to leave…”

Amy shrugged. “I’m feeling fine, so there’s no reason to stay.”

I scowled at that, then firmly reminded her, “You just had a damn burnout. You should be here for a couple more days, sitting on your ass while watching TV and eating crappy hospital food…”

Amy chuckled at that. “No thank you. You really don’t make staying sound very appealing. Besides, I’m better…”

“You had a burnout,” I repeated grimly. “Do you realize how serious that is?”

“This isn’t my first burnout,” Amy told me with a snort. Then, with a grim expression of her own, she admitted, “This isn’t even my sixth one.”

I stared at Amy in surprise, and concern. I narrowed my eyes and asked, “What do you mean?”

For a moment, I didn’t think that Amy was going to answer. Then, she let out a sigh and admitted, “I have a…medical condition.” She gave me a wry smile. “The doctors think I have a damaged BIT, and it keeps causing me to go into burnout…” At my look of surprise, she quickly explained, “Most of them aren’t this bad. In fact, most of them are just micro-burnouts, and I’m fine again a few minutes later. My body tends to heal itself when I shift modes.”

Amy was trying to act like this was no big deal, as if a burnout was just an inconvenience that she could simply shrug off. However, after my own manifestation and burnout, I’d learned a few things about the condition. Even a light burnout was considered to be a serious problem. From the look in her eyes, if not her smile, she obviously knew this too.

“You didn’t name yourself after some casino game, did you?” I blurted out in sudden realization. There was another kind of roulette that she could have named herself after, and one that I suspected was the real source of her name. Russian roulette.

“I…came close to dying a couple times,” Amy admitted quietly. “Especially the first time. If my mom hadn’t been there to cool me down in time, I probably would have died. Most of the time, it only lasts a couple minutes, and I recover right away. But…” She paused, giving me a wry look. “Sooner or later, I won’t be able to recover in time, and when that happens…”

“Shit,” I exclaimed, feeling my heart break a bit for the kid. I was suddenly reminded of when Rachael was about her age, and when we first started to realize that her Diedricks was something she’d have to deal with for the rest of her life. “Pardon my French, but that is fucked up…”

“It is what it is,” Amy responded with a shrug, as though this was no big deal. “There’s nothing I can do, so there’s no point in being worried about what ‘might’ happen.”

Without saying a word, I just hopped up onto the bed and sat beside Amy. Neither of us spoke, mostly because I didn’t know what the hell I could possibly say. If it had been my wife Meg there, or my daughter Melanie, then they probably would have just given Amy a big hug. However, in spite of turning into a cute little girl, that kind of thing still didn’t come natural to me.

Finally, I said, “I know what it’s like…having a death sentence hanging over your head. Two months ago, I was in the hospital, and I wasn’t supposed to ever leave.” I scowled at the memories, wishing that I had a beer to drink from. Instead, I absently played with my ribbon. “Cancer. My whole body was full of that crap, and there was nothing they could do except drug me to the gills and wait for me to die.”

This time, it was Amy who gave me a sympathetic look. “Damn… I know you’d said you were sick, but… I didn’t realize it was that bad.”

“I was lucky,” I told her after a moment. “One night, close to the end, a miracle walked right into my hospital room. Admittedly, my miracle came with a few strings, but it was still a miracle. I wouldn’t be here now without it.”

“You manifested,” Amy said in understanding. The truth was, my situation was a hell of a lot more complicated than that, but there was no reason for Amy to know the details.

“The point is,” I said, “that you never know when a miracle will show up, or what unexpected angel might bring it. The point is, you can’t just give up hope, because you never know when the future will pull a miracle out of its ass…”

Amy was silent for a moment, then she began to chuckle. “Good speech,” she told me. “I’m not giving up. The researchers here at Whateley are supposed to be some of the best in the world, so if anyone can figure out how to fix me, it would be them. But, that was undoubtedly the best motivational speech that anyone has ever given me.”

“Smartass,” I grumbled, fixing Amy with a glare before I started to chuckle to. “Fine then. Are you ready to get out of here?”

“More than ready,” she assured me.

In spite of Amy’s eagerness to leave, she still had to wait another fifteen minutes, until one of the doctors looked her over again. We walked back to Poe together, after that, neither of us really saying anything. We’d already had a nice little talk, and that seemed to be enough for both of us for the time being.

When we reached Poe, Mrs. Horton met us at the door. She smiled in relief at Amy, and announced, “I’m glad to see that you’re feeling better.”

“A lot better,” Amy responded with a slightly forced smile. “I’m just glad to be back…”

Mrs. Horton’s smile faded and she let out a long sigh. As a parent, who’d raised three children, I knew that look. I was the look of a parent who was forced to deliver bad news, when they wished that they didn’t have to.

“I’m afraid that I have bad news,” Mrs. Horton said, immediately confirming my suspicion.

“What is it?” I asked, keeping my expression even.

“I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, Amy,” Mrs. Horton said. “But the administration has decided, that in light of your medical condition, you should be placed in another dorm, which might be better equipped to monitor your situation and help you.” From the look on her face, it was clear that she wasn’t happy with this decision.

“What do you mean?” Amy asked in a resigned tone.

Mrs. Horton gave her an apologetic look as she answered, “I’m afraid that, for the time being, you’ve been reassigned to Hawthorne.”


Hawthorne, Thursday afternoon, August 30th, 2007

Hawthorne. I’d only been at Whateley for a couple days, but I’d already heard a few things about the remote cottage. Some people called it the Freak House, and said that it was where they hid away the most freakish mutants on campus, the ones that were too extreme for Twain and Emerson. This was also the place where they housed the students who couldn’t control their powers, and who were a danger to themselves and others.

“Home sweet home,” I commented wryly. Since I couldn’t control which powers I gained when I shifted, and I had the whole damaged BIT and burnout issue, it seemed that this was where I belonged.

I fought back the tears that wanted to come, reminding myself that there was no point crying over spilled milk. Mrs. Horton said that since the administration had already made their decision, there wasn’t much I could do until I’d resolved my issues. However, Mrs. Horton had also promised me that once my burnout problem had been taken care of, I’d be more than welcome back in Poe.

Even though I’d only lived in Poe for a short time, I didn’t want to leave. I’d been making friends, and I even had a roommate I liked. Now, I feared that I was going to lose my new friends, and that I wouldn’t be as lucky starting over.

Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself that this wasn’t the end of the world. This wasn’t nearly as big a deal as my other issues, and it wasn’t necessarily even permanent.

“It might not be so bad,” I said.

I glanced back to Alyss, who was following a short distance behind me, carrying my luggage. She had just grabbed my luggage and began carrying it, without my asking her. I think she was afraid that if I exerted myself, that I’d go into another burnout.

When we reached Hawthorne, Alyss said, “I guess this is it.”

“Yeah,” I responded with a sigh and a forced smile.

“Hey,” she added with a smile of her own. “You know, you can always come back to Poe and visit anytime. And, there ain’t no reason I can’t come over here either.”

I gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks.”

Just then, a woman came out of the building and stopped by the entrance. She was a large black woman in a wheelchair, though wheelchair probably wasn’t accurate since it had no wheels. Instead, her high tech looking chair, probably a devise, had glowing orbs on the corners instead, and the whole thing floated just above the ground.

Though I’d never seen this woman before, much less talked to her, I knew who she was. This was Mrs. Cantrel, Hawthorne’s house mother. Mrs. Horton had told me that Mrs. Cantrel was already expecting me.

“You must be Roulette,” Mrs. Cantrel greeted me with a friendly smile. “Welcome to Hawthorne. Come on in and we’ll get you settled in your new room. And don’t worry none, because we don’t bite.” Then she chuckled, “Well, most of the residents don’t.”

“Now that’s a warm welcome,” Alyss said with a chuckle.

I entered the building after Mrs. Cantrel while Alyss followed behind me. The house mother led me down the hall, stopping at the door that I assumed was mine. Then, she handed me the key.

Mrs. Cantrel remained outside the room while I went in to check it out. There was only one bed, so I had a single. At least there was one good thing from my move, though admittedly, I would have preferred to keep rooming with Alyss.

“Not bad,” Alyss told me as she dropped my luggage into the middle of the floor.

“The doctors will be sending over a biometric sensor from Doyle,” Mrs. Cantrel said. “This will monitor your vital signs and alert them as soon as you begin a burnout.”

“A good idea,” I grudgingly admitted.

“Now that we have you settled into your room,” Mrs. Cantrel told me, “I need to introduce you to a few people and get you a proper tour…”

“And that sounds like my signal to leave,” Alyss told me. She grinned up at me, looking absolutely adorable. “I’ll see you later…”

Once Alyss was gone, Mrs. Cantrel led me to the dayroom, which already had a few students there. What caught my attention immediately, was that there were a couple little girls, who appeared to be about the same age as Alyss.

“These little ones are Miranda, Ember, and Revekah,” Mrs. Cantrel told me with a faint smile. “The fourth member in this little band of troublemakers is Morgan, and who knows where he is at the moment…”

I nodded at the introductions, wishing that Alyss had stayed a little longer, because it could have been fun watching her and these kids meet up. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Amy…or Roulette.” I received a couple half-hearted ‘hellos’ from the girls, who were obviously more interested in whatever they were doing than in me.

“This is Sapphire,” Mrs. Cantrel said, indicating a girl who was wearing a cloak, that seemed to be made of blue scales. The hood was pulled down, shading her face and making it a little difficult to see.

As Mrs. Cantrel spoke, the girl pulled her hood back and stood up so I could get a much better look at her. She had long blue hair, and a killer body which practically screamed that she was an exemplar. She was lithe, athletic, and a bit curvy in all the right places, definitely more than any normal girl our age should be.

“Hello,” Sapphire said, smiling at me a little self-consciously. I noticed that her eyes were a brilliant sapphire blue, so between them and her hair, it was easy to see where she got her name from.

“Hi,” I responded with a faint smile. Then, I couldn’t resist pointing out, “You’ve got the blue hair and eyes, and I’ve got the purple. Maybe we should be friends.”

Sapphire laughed lightly. “Maybe.”

“Your rooms are right next to each other,” Mrs. Cantrel said, seeming pleased that we were getting along already. “You two are neighbors, so you’ll probably be seeing a lot of each other.”

Then, my eyes were drawn to the last person in the room, a young woman who had very pale skin, which was covered with some metallic blue tattoos. Her hair was metallic too, and when she looked at me, she actually seemed to have some kind of runes in her eyes. Interesting.

“This is Caitlin,” Mrs. Cantrel said as she indicated pale girl. “She’s your resident advisor, and will be able to help you with most of your questions.”

“Hey,” Caitlin said in greeting.

“Caitlin,” Mrs. Cantrel said. “If you wouldn’t mind giving Amy the full tour.”

“Sure thing,” Caitlin responded. Once Mrs. Cantrel had turned and left the room, Caitlin told me, “Come on.”

While we walked through the hallway, Caitlin told me, “I heard about your burnout in the quad yesterday. Tough luck.”

“It could have been worse,” I responded with a shrug.

Caitlin merely nodded at that. “Yeah, it could have been.”

When my tour guide showed me the common kitchen, my eyes went wide in delight. It was pretty spacious and looked to be fully stocked with the basic cooking utensils. However, I quickly got the impression that the kitchen had mostly been unused, except to store things in the fridge or to nuke them in the microwave.

“I might have to change that,” I mused to myself, thinking of the cookbook and recipes that Mrs. Lawrence had given me.

Caitlin led me through the cottage, pointing out some notable rooms. “Diz lives here, and she’ll try to talk you into playing Scrabble with her. Don’t, unless you like getting your butt kicked by a twelve year old.” Then, a few minutes later, she pointed to another door, “And this is where Puppet lives. She can’t leave, and you can’t go in without hazmat gear.”

Then, I saw two students standing in the hallway, who immediately caught my attention. They looked like they’d come straight out of the Sunday comics. Literally.

The first boy had a mop of dusty brown hair. I wasn’t sure what color it would have been if clean, but his hair and entire body looked absolutely filthy, as though he hadn’t showered in years. There was even a small cloud of dust floating about him, which made my neat freak side squirm in discomfort.

“This is Dust,” Caitlin introduced him to me. “He’s another new freshman, like yourself.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said politely, not offering my hand to shake.

A moment later, I turned my attention to the other boy, who was short, with a head that was large, round, and bald. The only thing he was missing, was a yellow shirt.

“Hey,” Charlie Brown greeted me with a broad grin. He held out his hand. “I’m Jimmy T…”

“Amy,” I responded, shaking his offered hand.

“This is Roulette,” Caitlin told them, gesturing to me. “She’s the one who had a burnout yesterday in the Quad.”

Dust gasped at that. “I heard you killed someone…”

“No,” I said with a shake of my head. I felt bad for what I’d accidentally done to Hardwyrd, but at least he’d come out of it all right. “I only maimed him a little.”

“That’s different,” Jimmy said with a chuckle.

I looked over Charlie Brown and Pigpen, but didn’t say anything about their appearances. I suddenly wondered, if this was somehow for my benefit. Was this some kind of Hawthorne initiation? Was one of them an illusionist, making me see them this way?

After this, the tour continued, with us going down to the basement. Or more accurately, going to the first of four basement levels. And from the way Caitlin mentioned the basements, I had to wonder if there might not be even more of them down there.

“This is my room,” Caitlin told me. “And nextdoor is where Paige lives. She’s crazier than I am, and she’s a were panther to boot, so don’t ever let her bite you… But if you ever need to know anything about computers, she’s the girl to talk to.”

“Were…panther,” I repeated with a gulp, suddenly having visions of my neighbor’s cat pouncing on me. I shook my head and gave Caitlin a weak smile. “How nice.”

Caitlin gave me an evil grin. “Don’t worry. Paige is usually too busy playing with her computers to eat anyone…”

“Usually?” I asked. Caitlin just smirked.

“Down here,” Caitlin said, pointing to a bathroom door, “is where the nameless abominations live. We usually reserve this bathroom for the kids doing detention here…”

“You know,” I responded evenly, “there’s this thing called a plunger that might be able to help with that.”

“Trust me,” Caitlin said with a chuckle. “You’re gonna need a lot more than a plunger.”

After this, Caitlin took me to another room, a large one that was dominated by a swimming pool. However, there were globs of goo floating on top of the water, so there was no way that I’d ever want to swim in there. In addition, I could see something on the bottom of the pool, though the globs made it difficult to make out what that was.

“This is the Hawthorne swimming pool,” Caitlin told me with a smirk. “Just be careful, because the wild Foob might drag you down.”

“Foob?” I asked curiously.

“Our cottage mascot,” Caitlin responded.

Suddenly, a new voice announced, “I am a long term resident of Hawthorne, and also happen to be the head of the psychic arts department for Whateley.”

A man was standing a short distance away, where nobody had been just a minute before. I didn’t jump at his sudden appearance, though I was definitely curious. I sniffed the air, and as I was currently an exemplar, my senses were extremely sharp. I didn’t smell anything from this man, nor did I hear anything from him. No heartbeat. No rustling of clothing. No breathing.

“I am Louis Geintz,” the man said with a friendly smile. “But most people around here call me Fubar…for rather obvious reasons.”

For a moment, I stared at Fubar, then my eyes went down to the figure in the bottom of the pool. “Is that you?” I asked, guessing that the man in front of me wasn’t really there. He had to be a projection of some kind. And though he could have been an illusion or hologram, the fact that he’d said he was head of the psychic arts department suggested that he was an entirely different kind of projection. A psychic projection. And of course, Caitlin had just warned me about a ‘wild Foob’ in the water.

“Yes, that is,” Fubar agreed pleasantly. “That is indeed me. I was once a student here at Whateley, but after graduation, I elected to remain and help other mutants.”

Caitlin leaned over and added, “They couldn’t find a goldfish bowl big enough for him.”

Instead of being offended by that, Fubar just chuckled faintly. Then he, or at least his psychic projection, looked at me and asked, “So, Ms. Maguire, what do you think of Hawthorne so far?”

“Well,” I answered with a wry smile. “I can honestly say that it isn’t boring.”


Crystal Hall, Friday, August 31st, 2007

I was sitting at a table in Crystal Hall, eating lunch with Amy and one of her new friends from Hawthorne, a blue haired girl named Sapphire, who was actually wearing a cloak that seemed to be made of blue scales. The whole thing was swept back, including the hood, so I didn’t have a problem making out her face and body. Sapphire was definitely a looker, and well-built for her age too. Or, as I liked to put it, she was jailbait.

Of course, Whateley was full of kids who fell under the category of jailbait. But, what could you expect in a place that had so many exemplars, and when any fourteen year old girl might be built like a twenty-one year old porn star. In fact, I even shared a shower with a few exemplar girls, who could easily have gotten a guy in trouble, though, that was a problem that I no longer had to worry about.

Because of my own exemplar status, I’d hopped right back over the puberty line. Ever since I’d turned into a little girl, I hadn’t felt a single tingling in my nether regions, nor have I felt any real attraction to anyone, male or female. In fact, I seemed to have completely lost my ability to have those kinds of feelings, which was probably a good thing, considering how young I looked.

There was a good chance, that one day, I would hit puberty again, and when that happened, I had absolutely no idea if I’d start liking girls again…or if I’d begin to like guys instead. For all I knew, it might be both or neither. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to get used to the idea, so that when that day did come, I wouldn’t be too shocked by it. Hopefully.

“So,” I said, turning my attention back to Amy. “How is Hawthorne treating you so far?”

“Not bad,” Amy told me as she took a bite of her sandwich, which she called a panini, which apparently meant that it had just been squashed flat. “It’s a little strange, but the people are nice.”

I nodded at that, glad to hear it. I liked Amy, and wasn’t happy about her being dropped off into Hawthorne. I’d heard a few rumors about the place, which made me worry for the kid.

“I heard that there’s some kind of monster in the basement,” I said, which made Amy snicker.

“That’s Fubar,” Sapphire answered with an amused smile.

“He looks kind of scary,” Amy added a moment later. “Even for Whateley…hence the name. But he seems pretty nice. And besides that, he’s actually a teacher here.”

“Really?” I asked, wondering what kind of person would go by the name of Fubar, because that wasn’t a codename that suggested normalcy.

“He’s one of the psychic teachers,” Amy continued, tapping her temple and smiling wryly. “So apparently, he’s going to be the guy to help me learn to control mine.” Then she let out a sigh. “If I can ever get finished with the power testing. Because of what happened the other day, they moved up my testing and I’ve been going through it all morning.”

“Mine wasn’t too bad,” I commented, thinking about how the results were pretty much the same as when the MCO did the testing. The whole thing had kind of been a pain in the ass because I already knew how my powers worked, but at least I’d only had to deal with that for half a day.

Amy shook her head and let out a sigh. “This morning, they did a bunch of testing, trying to get a better idea of how my shifting works. Not that they can learn much about that, unless they actually catch me when I do shift…which is only when I’m asleep or going through a burnout. This afternoon, they’re going to focus on my psychic powers…since that is what I have today.”

“At least you’ll be done then,” Sapphire said.

However, Amy shook her head again. “Nope. They’ll want me in there to test each of my power sets, which means a few more trips in.”

“Sorry to hear it,” I told my former roommate. She’d told me about how she’d been kidnapped, and had spent an entire week being put through power testing. I imagined that not only did this have to be frustrating for her, but it had to be bringing back some bad memories.

“Maybe they’ll figure something out about how to control my shifting,” Amy said hopefully. “Or at least, figure out how to stop the burnouts.”

“Both would be good,” I agreed.

“As it is,” Amy continued, “they put a biometric monitor in my room, to let the doctors know if I go into another burnout.” She shook her head. “And they’re talking about making me a portable one I can just strap around my wrist or something, so they can keep an eye on me constantly.”

“Ouch,” I said. “You mean, they’re gonna lojack you?”

“Pretty much,” Amy responded with a look of faint annoyance. “For my own good, of course.”

“Of course,” I agreed wryly. Then I looked to Sapphire and asked, “So, why are you in Hawthorne?”

Sapphire hesitated a moment before blushing self-consciously and admitting, “I drool in my sleep.”

I blinked at that. “That doesn’t sound like much of a reason to be in Hawthorne…”

“It is when your drool is a neurotoxic venom,” Sapphire pointed out with a shrug.

“Really?” I asked in surprise. “You’re poisonous?”

“Venomous,” Sapphire corrected me with a faint smile. “But don’t worry, it isn’t lethal. It just causes numbness and paralysis, depending on if you get it on your skin or in your bloodstream, and on how much.”

I nodded my understanding. “Yeah, I guess that could be a problem for any roommate…”

“You have no idea,” Sapphire responded with a sigh. “I sometimes release it as a mist, so if I didn’t have a curtain around my bed, it could get all over everything in my room…”

“Including a roommate,” Amy added. Then she gave Sapphire a friendly smile and pointed out, “At least this way, you get a single.”

“You too,” Sapphire said with a grin, revealing a pair of small fangs.

Amy looked to me and asked, “So, what do you have planned for the rest of the day?”

“Not much,” I responded with a chuckle. “I just need to check out a few possibilities for a campus job. My family is paying my way, but I want to make it easier on them if I can.”

“Good luck then,” Amy told me, while Sapphire echoed the sentiment.

When we were done with lunch, we all went our separate directions. Sapphire pulled her cloak tight around her, including the hood, and then started back towards Hawthorne by herself. Amy rolled her eyes, let out an exaggerated sigh, and then went back to the power testing labs with an obvious lack of enthusiasm.

I ran my hand down my black and crimson dress, smoothing out any wrinkles, not that a lot tended to form in my manifested fabric, then I tightened the crimson ribbon that I currently had tied in my hair. Once I was satisfied that I was presentable, I started off across campus to my own destination.

I hadn’t gone far when I heard some girl exclaim, “Oh my God. Is that a kindergartener?” It didn’t take much to realize that she must be talking to me. Though I tried ignoring the girl and continuing on my way, she didn’t want to leave it at that and ran up to me. “Hey, you…” Her tone was dripping contempt.

“Yes?” I responded, giving the girl a flat look. She was blonde and pretty, and the only thing missing, from turning her into a stereotype, was a cheerleader uniform.

“What are you doing here?” the girl demanded in a patronizing tone. “This is a high school, not a place for little girls.”

“Then what are you doing here?” I asked, pausing to adjust my dress again, just because I knew other people found it annoying.

The girl puffed up at that, looking offended. “I’ll have you know that I’m almost fifteen…”

I chuckled at that, thinking that if either of my daughters had behaved like this, I would have been tempted to tan her hide. Instead, I just responded, “And I’m already fifteen, in spite of my youthful looks.”

Just as I turned to walk away, the girl fired a burst of light right in front of me, to keep me from leaving. “Don’t you lie to me, you little brat. Do you know who I am?”

“Not really,” I responded, giving the girl a flat look. I was really starting to get annoyed.

“I am Starbright,” she announced, as if I should recognize the name.

With a roll of my eyes, I said, “And I’m Ribbon. Now, go bother someone else, because I’m busy…”

Starbright glared at me with narrowed eyes. “It looks like someone has to teach you some manners…”

This brat’s attitude was really starting to piss me off, and I could feel my temper starting to rise. I clenched my fist in an almost instinctive preparation to fight, but at the same time, I had enough sense to resist this rising urge. No matter how big of a brat this girl was, she was still a kid. And though I would absolutely love to throw her over my knee and give her a good spanking, with my current strength, I could seriously injure her by doing that.

“Someone needs to learn manners,” I said, “And it sure as hell ain’t me.”

A moment later, I formed a long strand of ribbon between my hands, deciding that this kid might need the same treatment as that werewolf boy. However, Just as I was preparing myself to deal with her, someone called out my name.

“ALYSS,” the familiar voice called out again, this time from a closer distance. I looked at the source and was surprised to see Iron Rose, who was coming straight towards us at a fast pace, with a grim look on her face. She glared at Starbright and demanded, “What the hell is going on over here?”

“Mind your own business,” Starbright responded with a sneer, though she still looked a little intimidated by Rose’s size.

Rose scowled more deeply, and suddenly, her flesh changed into metal. “Ribbon is in my cottage,” Rose told the other girl, who now looked even more intimidated. “That means this is my business.”

“Then you should teach your friend some manners,” Starbright exclaimed, before she turned and walked off, trying to maintain her dignity.

“Thanks,” I told Rose, even though I could have handled that without her help. Still, it’s always nice to know that you’ve got people watching your back.

“It was nothing,” Rose responded, turning back to normal flesh. “Like we were told on Monday, Poesies have to look out for each other.”

“Amen to that,” I said in agreement.

Rose glared back towards Starbright and spat out, “I hate girls like that…”

I gave Rose a curious look. “Bad experience?”

“A few of them,” she admitted bitterly. For a moment, Rose looked around, then in an almost conspiratorial tone, she told me, “Back in my old school, there were a few bitches like her who made my life miserable. They kept calling me a wetback dyke, among other things…”

I gave Rose a look of surprise. “It’s hard to believe that anyone would dare…”

“I didn’t look like this, back then,” Rose told me with a grimace. “Then I manifested and had a growth spurt…” She flexed one of her biceps to show off. “They stopped messing with me after that… At least until they called the MCO on me…” Then she paused, having a momentary pained look on her face, which quickly vanished. She ran a hand over her bald head, and looked almost chagrined as she added, “But, it turns out that turning into metal isn’t good for your hair follicles…”

With a chuckle, I nodded agreement. “I imagine not. I kind of had the opposite change… I got short, scrawny, and my hair grew out…” I ran a hand through my long white hair and earned a faint smirk. “I figured, if I’m gonna look like a cute little girl, no matter what I do, I might as well have fun with it…”

Rose escorted me to my destination, and we continued chatting on the way. Once we arrived, she said a quick goodbye, then hurried on her way. I went inside the garage and began looking for the person I was supposed to meet. It didn’t take me long to find him.

Melvin Donner was a big man, even larger than I’d been back in the days when I’d been known as Big Al. He towered over me, and he would have intimidated any normal girl my age, or at least, my apparent age. However, there wasn’t anything normal about me. I didn’t know much about Donner, other than that he was the auto shop teacher on campus, and that he was looking for a couple students to help him around the garage. That of course, was why I was there.

“You must be Alyss Morgan,” Donner said. “Ribbon.”

“That’s me,” I agreed.

Donner gave me a deeply skeptical look, obviously wondering why someone who looked the way I did, and was dressed the way I was, would even be in his garage. Back before my change, I would have reacted the exact same way.

“Carson told me that you might show up, asking about the Gearheads, or if I had any work,” Donner said, still staring down at me. “She said I should give you the benefit of the doubt, and at least see what you had to offer.” The look of skepticism didn’t really change. “I got an email saying that you were interested in a job.”

“That is why I’m here,” I agreed, keeping my voice and expression neutral.

“Then, let’s see what you’ve got,” Donner said, leading me through the massive garage and to where a 2001 Honda Accord was parked. “This belongs to one of the faculty, and it won’t start. Why don’t you see what you can do to get it running again.”

I stared at the car for a moment, already nodding my agreement. Then, I asked, “Do you mind if I change into something else first?”

“Go ahead,” Donner responded. “The wash room is that way…”

If he had any questions about what I was going to change into, since I didn’t have any bags or obvious extra clothes with me, he didn’t ask. Then again, maybe he’d been briefed on my power.

I went to the wash room, where I stripped off my dress and manifested some new clothes that were a little more appropriate. A minute later, I came out of the wash room, now wearing a set of blue coveralls, which were about as close as I could create to what I used to wear at work. My name ‘Alyss’ rested in the same spot, where I’d once had a name tag for ‘Big Al’. And on top of that, I’d taken the ribbon that was already in my hair, and used it to tie my hair back into a ponytail.

Donner didn’t say a word about my change of clothes, though I did see a faint nod of approval. As a former professional, there was no way in hell that I was about to wear a loose and frilly dress while working on a car. I didn’t give a damn if the dress got dirty or ruined, since I could just make another one. What I did care about, and was pretty sure that Donner did too, was that I wasn’t wearing something that could get caught in the engine and be a major safety issue.

Without saying a word, I popped the hood to look inside, then I tried to start the car. It didn’t start, but the lights came on so it wasn’t something quite as obvious as a dead battery. I don’t know how many times some idiot had their car towed to my shop because it wouldn’t start, when all they needed to do was put in a new battery. A few seconds later, I was back under the hood and looking more closely.

It didn’t take too long to find the problem, and to my surprise, there was a back room full of spare parts, which happened to have just what I needed. As soon as I had the part in hand, I really went to work. Donner kept coming back to check on my progress, but didn’t say a word.

When I climbed out from under the hood in order to get a socket, I noticed that someone had messed with the tool chest. They’d wrapped a large cargo strap around the whole thing, then put an engine block onto the strap, right next to the chest. Whomever did that, had removed the hoist.

“So, that’s the way it’s gonna be,” I said.

There were some chuckles around the garage, and I saw a couple students look in my direction. Obviously, they thought it was funny to mess with the new girl, not that I could blame them. I’d seen similar antics in garages full of grown men.

Ignoring the pranksters, I picked up the engine block and moved it over a few feet. The laughter stopped, and the pranksters went silent. After the brief delay, I dove back under the hood. Eventually, I ended up under the car, double checking a few things from beneath.

“That should do it,” I announced as I climbed out from beneath the car. I wiped my dirty hands on my coveralls, feeling more than a little pleased with myself. The work had been easy, but it made me feel more like my old self than I had in a long time.

Then I suddenly noticed that I had an audience. Donner was there, along with a girl I recognized from Poe.

“Alyss,” exclaimed the tall redhead named Lanie, who was one of the RAs for the sophomores. I hadn’t really talked to her before, and was just a little curious about why she was there. “I didn’t know you were interested in cars.”

“Everyone needs a hobby,” I said with a grin.

I nodded to Donner, then climbed into the car and turned the ignition. It started right up and purred like a kitten. Well, it purred like a car that could have used a tune-up, but it was still in good shape.

“You know your way around a car,” Donner pointed out with a nod of approval.

“You aren’t a gadgeteer or devisor, are you?” Lanie asked.

“Nope,” I responded with a grin. “My grandpa was a mechanic, and I spent a lot of time helping him out in his garage. Everything I know, I learned from him.”

Donner stared at me for a moment before saying, “A lot of faculty bring their cars in for maintenance and repairs. You’ll be helping with some of those and the campus vehicles, cleaning up around here, and doing whatever else I feel like having you do.”

“That sounds good to me,” I said with a nod.

“There’s a lot of basic maintenance that needs to be done,” Donner told me, “but most of the Gearheads would prefer to work on their own projects instead.”

I just shrugged at that. “Basic maintenance and small repairs are the bread and butter for any mechanic.”

Donner nodded agreement at that, then we talked for a couple minutes, discussing when I should come in and what kind of hours I could expect. By the time we were done, I was grinning. I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

Lanie stood back while we were talking, but once Donner left, she stepped forward. “So,” she asked me with a grin. “Has anyone told you about the Gearheads yet?”


Power Testing Labs, Friday, August 31st, 2007

I was in the power testing labs, wearing a sensor suit and staring intently at the monitor in front of me. I didn’t bother to show my annoyance at the fact that I’d spent the entire day testing, and I didn’t learn a single thing about my powers that I hadn’t already known. Instead, I’d resigned myself to going through the motions…again.

“Well Roulette,” Dr. Quintain said. “I would have to rate your package deal psychic abilities as a level two…”

“That was about what I figured,” I said, without much emotion.

After spending several hours trying to guess what cards they’d draw, or read their minds, I was mentally worn out. I already knew from my previous testing that my esper sense let me feel where other people were around me, but not much else. I was a telepath…but couldn’t hear anyone’s thoughts unless I was physically touching them. And then there was my telekinesis. I could only lift about 20lbs at one time, which wasn’t really all that impressive.

“I think that all my abilities fall between a level two and three,” I said, though I wasn’t sure if any of the scientists were actually listening. They were still looking over the results of my testing, and seemed lost in their own little world. “None of them are especially strong.”

“Perhaps,” Dr. Hewley said. “But we still need to test each of these power modes to be certain, and to learn their full extent.”

Dr. Quintain nodded at that, though he added, “What I find most fascinating, is the shifting power itself…”

For the next five minutes, Dr. Quintain went off on a lecture about how my various modes, with their different powers, could be the key to better understanding how powers worked. He used the term ‘Rosetta Stone’ several times, and was excited enough that he actually scared me a little. I could appreciate his enthusiasm, but he sounded just a little too much like ‘Dr. Smith’, the mad scientist who’d kidnapped me, because he was interested in researching the exact same thing.

“I think that we are done for today,” Dr. Hewley told me. “We have enough data on your current form and power set, but we will need you to come back for more testing, in each of your modes.”

“And we will need to do more research on your base power,” Dr. Quintain continued. He stared at me for a moment and mused, “If we can get more data on you while you are shifting modes…”

That line of thought was less than encouraging, because the last thing I wanted to do, was sleep in the lab for a week, while wired up to some machines. Or even worse, get wired up to all the sensors, and then wait until I went through another burnout. That might get them a lot of data, but it would be less than enjoyable on my part.

Dr. Hewley looked to Dr. Quintain. “Making appointments for further testing may be rather problematic. With her powers changing each day, without any apparent pattern…”

“We’d never know which power she has ahead of time,” Dr. Quintain said, nodding agreement. “I suspect it won’t be long before she comes to testing, with powers that we’ve already tested…”

The two scientists continued their discussion, talking about me as though I wasn’t right there in front of them. And since they kept using a lot of technical terms, I couldn’t even follow along, at least not completely. Still, I understood enough of their conversation to get the point. They wanted to put me through more testing. A LOT more testing.

I groaned to myself since I’d already been through more testing than I was happy with, and the last thing I wanted to do was go through even more. However, I had to admit that if they could figure out how my power actually worked, then they might be able to figure out how to stop me from going into so many burnouts. They might be able to keep my power from killing me.

“I have an idea,” I blurted out. When neither responded, I raised my voice and repeated. “I have an idea.” This time, they both paused to look at me.

“What was that?” Dr. Quintain asked me.

“You two need me to keep coming back,” I pointed out, “so you can poke me, prod me, and run all those other tests you keep talking about.”

“That isn’t quite how I’d phrase it,” Dr. Hewley told me. “However, that is the gist.”

I nodded at that. “That sounds like it will take up a lot of my time, and be a huge hassle…” I let that soak in for a moment, then I allowed myself to smile. “Well, I really need a campus job, and they told me that I can’t work in the kitchens because of my burnouts... So…”

Dr. Quintain stared at me for several long seconds before giving a faint nod. “That sounds…like a workable idea. If we hire you to clean, file, and retrieve coffee, then you’d be on hand and available, on a regular basis.”

“And you’d be compensated for your time and trouble,” Dr. Hewley added, giving me a knowing look.

The two scientists went off and began to discuss this between themselves, just far enough away so that I couldn’t overhear. I wished I could control what modes I shifted to and when, or at least, that I was currently an exemplar. As an exemplar, my senses were as enhanced as my strength and stamina, so I would have been able to listen in without too much trouble.

Two minutes later, Dr. Quintain returned to me and held out his hand, saying, “It seems that we have an agreement.”

I shook his hand and smiled. “So, does today count as being on the job?”

A short time later, I was back in normal clothes and out of the testing labs. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea of going back tomorrow, but at least now I was going to be paid for it. That would make the whole unpleasant ordeal, at least a little less of one.

Since it was about time for dinner, and I was definitely hungry, I went straight for Crystal Hall. In almost no time at all, I had a plate of food, and was looking for a table. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look for long. I saw Alyss, Voodude, and Breakdown sitting together at a table. I gave Breakdown a wary look, still not happy about the way she’d ruined my device, but with a shrug I went over and sat down anyway.

“Hello,” I said, momentarily worried that they wouldn’t want to hang out with me now that I was no longer in Poe.

“Hey,” Voodude said, giving me a concerned look. “How are you feeling?”

“Well,” I responded wryly. “After spending an entire day in power testing, and then finding out that they want me back for a LOT more testing…I’m going to have an extra dessert.”

“Amen to that,” Breakdown announced with a grin.

I looked to Alyss, who was wearing a completely different dress than when I’d last seen her at lunch, and she had what seemed to be a dark grease smudge on her cheek. However, in spite of that, she was grinning and looked like she was in a good mood.

“Don’t tell me that you’re that happy to get rid of me,” I gasped in mock hurt. “I guess you must really appreciate having a single now…”

Alyss chuckled at that. “I’m afraid I didn’t get to keep the single for long. About an hour ago, Horton went and gave me a new roommate…”

“Really?” I asked in surprise. “That was fast.”

“It’s Knockoff,” Breakdown said.

I was a little startled at that. “Martina? But why?”

“Her old roommate,” Alyss told me with a shrug. “Martina and Christina were going to kill each other, so Horton moved Martina in with me.” Alyss smiled faintly. “I don’t have any problem with Martina or her mom, so it works out for everyone.”

I nodded at that, but pointed out, “But now, Christina gets a single. That’s like rewarding her for being a bitch.”

“I doubt she’ll have a single for long,” Voodude pointed out. “I hear that there’s always students who trickle in a little late.”

We continued talking for a couple more minutes, but then, I noticed another student who was walking around, looking for a table. Sapphire was wearing her cloak, as she always did. I still didn’t know why she always had that thing, and wasn’t about to ask. At least not yet. However, I held my hand out for her attention.

“You don’t mind if Sapphire sits with us, do you?” I asked, looking around the table and realizing that I probably should have asked before waving Sapphire over.

“No problem,” Alyss responded, which seemed to decide it for the others.

The cloaked came over towards our table and gave a self-conscious smile. “Hello,” she said, pulling back her hood so that everyone could see her more clearly. “I’m Sapphire.”

“Nice to meet you,” Breakdown said, giving Sapphire a look of noticeable interest. Fortunately, Sapphire didn’t seem to realize that Breakdown was checking her out.

“This is Breakdown and Voodude,” I introduced them. “You’ve already met Alyss.”

Sapphire nodded at that as she sat down at the table, and asked me, “So, how was your power testing?”

“Long and boring,” I assured her. “But I talked them into paying me for it.”

Alyss gave me a look of surprise. “How the hell did you manage that?”

“Apparently, I’m a Rosetta Stone for powers,” I answered with a chuckle. “They REALLY want to test my powers.”

“Not bad,” Alyss told me with a grin of her own. “Not bad at all. I actually got a new job too. I’m helping out in the motor pool.”

Nearly everyone gave Alyss a look of surprise, except for me. She didn’t look anything like the kind of person who usually worked on cars, but I’d seen the tool box in her luggage. Only someone who is serious about their work, would bother to bring their own tools like that.

“So,” Voodude asked, gesturing to Sapphire. “What’s with the bling? Is that part of a costume or something?”

Sapphire pulled her cloak tighter against herself, almost wrapping herself in it like some kind of security blanket. “It…is personal,” she answered self-consciously.

Since I didn’t want to scare Sapphire away, I changed the subject and asked her, “Did they ever clean up that mess from this morning?”

Sapphire began to laugh. “I think they only finished cleaning a short time ago…”

“What mess?” Breakdown asked.

For a moment, Sapphire and I shared a look, then we both burst out laughing. Once I was able to talk again, I explained, “Well, a couple kids were sent to clean Hawthorne for detention…”

“Ewwww,” Breakdown said with a visible shudder, before quickly adding, “No offense…”

Voodoo just shook his head and asked, “How do you even get detention before school starts?”

“No idea,” I responded with a grin. “But they were there, so Fubar and Achoo had a snot rocket fight, and these boys got stuck in the middle of it…”

“It was disgusting,” Sapphire exclaimed. “There was slime over all the walls…”

“And those boys,” I added.

Alyss gave me a curious look. “You told me about Fubar, but who is Achoo?”

“He’s a manifestor,” I explained with a chuckle, thinking of the boy whom I’d only met last night. “He creates this disgusting green slime, but can control the density and texture, to make it super slimy and slippery, gooey and sticky, or even pretty hard. It’s pretty gross, and to make it worse, it comes out automatically whenever he sneezes…”

“And he has hayfever,” Sapphire added with a grin.

I nodded at that, knowing that the boy had a heavy duty air filter in his room, just so that he had at least one place where he could relax. “I’d probably feel sorry for the guy,” I admitted wryly. “If he hadn’t tried to cop a feel five seconds after we met.”

“He did that to me too,” Sapphire told me a faint smirk.

With a raised eyebrow, I asked, “What did you do?”

The blue haired girl chuckled faintly before admitting, “I showed him why he should never lay hands on an exemplar, who is several times stronger than he is.”

Breakdown burst out laughing at that. “Serves him right.”

Once we finished eating, and remained to chat a little longer, the other…the Poesies returned to their cottage. I watched Alyss leave with Voodude and Breakdown, feeling a little sad that I wasn’t going with them. However, I was beginning to make friends in my new cottage too, so I started back to Hawthorne with Sapphire.

Sapphire and I made some small talk as we walked, and I tried to make sense of her. She was an odd girl, as her always present cloak demonstrated, but I was used to odd. In fact, considering who my friends and family were, I wasn’t sure that I’d know how to have a conversation with a normal person. Some people would probably say that normal and I weren’t exactly on speaking terms.

When we reached Hawthorne, I saw Caitlin standing out front, talking to a snake girl. From the waist up, she looked pretty human, but from the waist down, she had an enormous snake tail.

Suddenly, Sapphire stopped. “What?” I asked, noticing that she was just standing there and staring straight at the snake girl. “Are you okay?”

Instead of answering me, Sapphire pulled her cloak tighter and began to scowl. Then it dawned on me. Sapphire was either afraid of snakes, or just of someone with such severe GSD.

A few seconds later, the snake girl slithered away while Caitlin turned and went back into the cottage. Sapphire lowered her head, pulling the hood up and over it so that I couldn’t see her face very clearly. Then, she continued walking into Hawthorne, not saying a word as she went to her room and vanished inside.

I stared at Sapphire’s door for a few seconds, wondering if I should knock on it and see if she wanted to talk. However, I didn’t really know her very well and had no idea of what to say. So instead, I went to my own room, pulled out my recipe book, and sat down to read.


Poe Cottage, Saturday morning, September 1st, 2007

I sat up in bed and just sat there for a moment with my feet dangling over the edge. The bed was pretty large and roomy, feeling almost like it was a queen or king sized. Ironically, just a couple months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep on it without my feet hanging over the end.

At times like this, I couldn’t help but thinking that it was as though the entire world had changed, and not just me. Everything was much larger than before, and everyone. Sometimes, I almost felt like I was in some kind of funhouse.

Using my small and delicate hands, I brushed the hair from my face, then hopped out of bed, being careful not to wake my new roommate. Martina was still asleep on the other side of the room, so I didn’t make a sound as I manifested a bathrobe, grabbed my shower gear, and slipped out of the room.

I was relieved to find the showers empty, but not surprised. After all, I had gotten up a little early just so I could beat everyone there. I hadn’t gotten up early just to avoid the line, though that was a nice benefit. The truth was, I wasn’t comfortable showering with all those other girls. Showering with them made me feel like I was some kind of pervert or dirty old man, even if I was now a girl myself, and completely lacking in a libido.

Once I was done with my shower, I slipped back into my robe and began the long and boring process of drying my hair. Long hair was a pain in the ass to dry, but I couldn’t just cut it off. For one thing, it really went with the image I was trying to project. And for another, neither my daughter Melanie, nor either of my granddaughters, would ever forgive me if I did. I did momentarily wish that I still had Amy’s hair dryer, because that thing did the job pretty damn fast, but I didn’t bother to dwell on what I didn’t have. After all, if wishes were horses, then everyone would be wearing hip waders.

By the time I was fully cleaned, dried, and dressed, the other girls in the hall were starting to get up and head to the showers. I made sure to be out of there before that happened. And fortunately, Martina had already gotten up and was preparing for her shower as well, so I no longer had to worry about waking her.

Since I was getting pretty hungry, I decided not to wait for anyone else, and left for breakfast on my own. A short time later, I had a plate full of pancakes and sausage, and even more importantly, a large mug of coffee. Black, of course. I didn’t see anyone that I really knew, so I found a nice empty table and made myself at home.

I was about halfway finished when I suddenly found myself surrounded by four girls, who all appeared to be the same age as me. However, unlike with me, I was pretty sure that these kids were the real deal.

“Hi,” a dark haired girl exclaimed with a broad grin as she sat down at my table, not waiting for any invitation. “I’m Ember…”

“You’re Amy’s friend, aren’t you?” another girl asked, and before I could answer, she added, “She’s nice…”

The first girl pointed to the one who’d just spoken, and said, “This is Miranda… And that’s Morgan and Revekah.”

“Hi,” I responded with a chuckle. “I’m Ribbon. Or Alyss…”

“That’s a really pretty dress,” Miranda said, pausing to give me a strange look.

“Thanks,” I told her with a smile. “I made it myself.”

Ember’s eyes went wide at that. “Really? You know how to sew?” She actually seemed a little impressed by that.

I looked around the table at the four girls who’d invited themselves to sit by me, and I felt a certain sense of amusement. They reminded me a bit of my granddaughters, especially Kimberly. And that just made me think that if Kimberly ever manifested as a mutant, then she’d probably be quite a handful.

“Actually, it’s my power,” I explained, holding out my hands and creating several brightly colored ribbons, which I dropped onto the middle of the table. The girls quickly grabbed for them, as if they were great new toys. “They only last about a day though, then they disappear…”

“This is cool,” Ember exclaimed.

Miranda nodded agreement, not saying a word, though she was already tying the ribbon into her hair. Then, she smiled and said, “Thank you…”

“You want to come play with us today?” Morgan asked me.

“Maybe later,” I answered with a friendly smile. “I’ve got a few things that I need to take care of today.”

“I don’t think she really wants to play with us,” Miranda said, giving me another strange look. “She’s older than us…”

“Oh yeah,” Ember added. “Amy said that you were really the same age she was…”

“But you can still hang out with us,” Revekah offered, as though she was doing me a great honor.

The girls continued chatting while they ate, and I watched them with some amusement. They were a lot younger than most of the kids in this school, which meant that they didn’t have a lot of kids to play with in their own age group. It was no wonder that they’d immediately come to join me, since I looked to be about the same age. And admittedly, I kind of liked the idea of having some people around, who were the same size and apparent age as me. For once, I didn’t feel like a midget in comparison.

I had just finished eating my breakfast, when a familiar voice announced, “So, this is the little kid table…”

I looked up and saw Starbright with a smug look on her face. “In that case,” I pointed out, “you should sit down and join us.”

“Watch the attitude, little girl,” Starbright exclaimed. She came over and grabbed my shoulder, in what was probably supposed to be a firm and painful grip. I barely felt it. “I haven’t forgotten that I need to teach you a lesson about respect…”

“Someone certainly needs to learn that lesson,” I mused, reaching up to touch her arm.

A moment later, I manifested a new dress, right onto Starbright. It was the biggest, poofiest, and most overly frilly dress that I’d ever made, and to top it off, the whole thing was a bright neon orange. The four girls at my table gaped in surprise, then burst into giggles.

“WHAT IS THIS?” Starbright screamed, jumping back and tugging at the dress.

I just smirked, because it wasn’t going to come off that easily. In fact, I’d created the dress tight against her body, not leaving any slits or openings big enough for her to slip through. The only way to get out of that monstrosity, was to cut herself out of it.

“That is a REALLY ugly dress,” Miranda pointed out, while the other girls nodded agreement.

“Get it off me,” Starbright demanded a she continued struggling with the dress.

At this point, not only were the four little girls at my table laughing, so was nearly everyone sitting nearby. Suddenly, Starbright began to glow with bright dazzling lights flashing around her, making her difficult to look at. A moment later, I realized that this was intentional as she ran out of the cafeteria as fast as she could.

“Well, that was fun,” I said with a chuckle.

This was actually quite a change of pace for me. Back in my old life, when I was still Big Al, I had a tendency to solve most of my problems with my fists, or with the threat of using them. Unfortunately, that was no longer an option, not when it would be too easy to seriously hurt someone, and especially not against a child.

“That was awesome,” Ember exclaimed, nearly bouncing in her seat.

“Can you make me a dress too?” Revekah asked eagerly.

“But a good one,” Miranda added firmly.

“Sure,” I answered, looking at the four of them. “What color do you want your dresses?”

“Pink,” Ember answered.

Miranda grinned, “I want a green one…”

“Purple,” Revekah responded.

I looked to Morgan, who just shrugged. “I don’t care.”

With a nod, I stood up and walked around the table, touching Ember and forming her dress around her. She let out a loud ‘squee’ of delight. Then I did the same for Miranda, Revekah, and Morgan. Miranda and Morgan had similar reactions to Ember, but Morgan seemed somewhat less excited.

“Thank you,” Miranda told me as she twirled around with her dress.

Before I knew it, the four of them ran off, leaving me at the table by myself. I watched them leave, amused by their delight in something so simple. It reminded me of other days, ones long ago, when Rachael and Melanie had been excited with their new dresses.

When I got back to Poe a short time later, I immediately started heading towards my room. However, the moment I stepped into my hallway, I realized that something was wrong. There were rain clouds along the ceiling, with rain pouring down onto the floor. It took me only a couple seconds to realize that the clouds were coming out of the girl’s bathroom and showers.

“What the hell…?” I started to say, only to hear a scream from the bathroom.

“DOWNPOUR!” Cindy screamed, stepping out of the bathroom into the hallway and yelling, “ANGEL! MRS. HORTON!”

I ran into the bathroom, then froze at the sight in front of me. Downpour was sitting on the floor, in a pool of her own blood. There was a knife on the floor beside her, and a deep gash on the inside of one of her arms.

“No,” Breakdown cried out, crouched down beside the bleeding girl. She was frantically tearing at her shirt, trying to tear off a strip of cloth. It took me a moment to realize that she was trying to create a bandage or tourniquet.

“Here,” I said, manifesting several ribbons, which would do a better job.

Clouds were still forming along the ceiling, and rain was falling down in a heavy flow, almost as though we were standing beneath the shower heads. However, considering what was going on with Downpour, neither Breakdown or I cared about getting wet.

“No more,” Downpour whispered with tears running down her cheeks. “I don’t want to do this anymore…”

“You have to,” I insisted, kneeling down beside the girl. “You can’t give up… I don’t know what’s going on, but things will get better. They always do…”

A moment later, Cindy came back into the bathroom with a small crowd of people behind her. Peacock and Jinx were trying to get in for a better look, both of them with expressions of shock, horror, and worry.

“What happened to her?” Peacock demanded with a shaking voice. “Why would she do this…?”

“Downpour has severe depression,” Angel said as she pushed past everyone else to get to Downpour’s side. I backed off to give her room. “Her medication doesn’t work on her anymore, not since she manifested…”

“Get back,” Mrs. Horton commanded as she too rushed into the bathroom. “All of you get out of here, except for Angel…”

I stood there for a moment, staring at Downpour and feeling an ache in my heart. How close had Rachael come to doing this herself? Her own life had been a living hell, for so long that she had to have at least considered ending it all. I didn’t know what demons Downpour was dealing with, but I really felt for the poor kid. I just wished that I knew how to help her.

Mrs. Horton began using magic on Downpour, apparently to heal her arm or stabilize her, but I didn’t get a chance to see. While the housemother was working, Angel began shooing the rest of us out of the room. Since we were only getting in the way, I left without argument, and half pulled the other girls out as well.

“I’m pretty sure we got to her in time,” I said, trying to reassure myself as much as the other girls. I looked to Cindy, who’d been the one to run for help. “You did good. I think you may have just saved her life…

Cindy stood there with tears running down her cheeks, though that could have been the rain that was still falling down on us. “I hope so,” she whispered, staring towards the bathroom door with a worried look on her face. “I sure hope so…”

I looked around the hallway, noting that half the floor seemed to be showing up now. Along with everyone else who’d already come, Lexi, Victory, and Christina had arrived as well. They were looking up, obviously concerned about it raining in the hallway. However, after Peacock talked to them for a few seconds, their expressions turned to shock, horror, and concern.

“Damn,” I muttered, clenching my fists tightly. It was ironic, that as strong and tough as I’d become, I still felt helpless to do anything. It was with a grimace of frustration, that I reminded myself of something I’d already come to realize, “Solid muscles and a wrench can’t fix everything…or even the most important things.”

Since there was absolutely nothing I could do, and I didn’t want to get in the way or be a useless lookyloo, I returned to my room. I changed clothes and dried myself off, but what I really wanted to do, was find some asshole to punch. I wanted to kick the crap out of whomever was responsible for this, but I knew it wasn’t that simple. Still, I had to calm myself down, and I knew something that always helped me to relax.

A couple minutes later, I was out the door of Poe again, but this time, I wasn’t going anywhere but around the cottage itself. I started walking around to the backside of the building, but paused when I caught a very familiar scent. It only took me a few more seconds before I found the source.

Standing right behind the cottage, while casually leaning up against the wall, was the largest girl I’d ever seen. Compared to me, she was enormous, with bulging muscles, bronzed skin, and fairly short hair, which was actually a metallic gold in color. This was Hippolyta, who’d been pointed out to me before, though we’d never actually met. And at that moment, she was puffing away on a cigar.

“It looks like I stumbled across the smoking area,” I commented.

Hippolyta stared down at me, fixing me with a flat look that seemed both curious and vaguely hostile. “What do you want?”

“Probably the same thing as you,” I answered as I pulled out my own cigar. “A little peace and quiet.”

I claimed my own spot on the wall a short distance away, where I leaned back and prepped my cigar. Hippolyta watched me with a look that seemed to be a mixture of curiosity and amusement, though she didn’t say a word. After lighting my cigar, I took a nice pull on it, then blew the smoke out with a certain satisfaction, imagining that all my stress and frustrations were floating away with it.

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