That god damn glowing red fatass! Shoulda called him something before I stormed out. I resolved to have a smartass line next time I saw him. Something along the lines of ‘so, you’re what happens when Santa knocks up Rudolf’, yeah, that would have been perfect. I was half tempted to turn around and do just that, but I had more important things to worry about right now.
At least I didn’t blow it and let something important slip. I didn’t admit to fighting Kitten, which meant they couldn’t touch me. I didn’t let him see anything about my power that everyone didn’t already know. In retrospect, showing off to Cassie wasn’t bright, but even if she did blab about that one trick, I could cope. Not like I expected to hide that power for very long once I went public.
Lunch wasn’t quite half over when I finally got to the room. Cassie was sitting with her cheerleader friends, and a couple of the jocks. Damn. I hoped I’d be able to talk to her somewhere that wasn’t conspicuous. I didn’t want her to tell me to go to hell publicly. At least, not this publicly.
One of her friends, some brunette senior whose name I didn’t know, noticed me first. Then Cassie looked up, and looked away a moment later.Well, fuck me then. I’d try to talk to her after school. We had history together fourth period, she’d have to skip to avoid me. And if she really wanted to avoid me that badly, I’d take that as her answer.
I glanced around for a place to sit. I wasn’t in the mood for the geek table and another round of twenty questions about my powers. Wasn’t really even in the mood for lunch, if we were being honest. So recently after a restore, and with all this crap on my mind, it was easier just to skip eating than force myself. I went over to Alex’s table, instead.
Despite Alex being the cool sports star that didn’t let the other jocks pick on the unpopular kids, his table was nothing but the sports guys and their girlfriends. Birds and feathers, as it were. In any other school, he’d be the hero of every geek’s. In this school, well, there were still the gangs, and most of them didn’t give a fuck. I’d have to put that high on my list of things to fix here.
I opted to sit on the other side of the table from Alex, stopping behind that side. Had a guy from the football team there. One of the blockers, I didn’t know his actual position, just that he was a big black guy. Like, pretty sure he was on ‘roids big. “Hey, got some room for me?”
He looked around at me. “Kinda bu-” then he recognized me. “Ah, guess it can keep ’till practice.” He scooted over a bit, prompting everyone to shuffle just a bit to the left to make space.
Alex shrugged. “Yeah, we can take care of it later, Bear.”
Is that his nickname or his species? The quarters were still a bit cramped, but I had space enough. After sitting down I realized I barely came up to Bear’s shoulders. “Sorry to be a bother, I hope I didn’t interrupt anything important.”
Alex shook his head. “Nothing that can’t wait, just a scheduling issue. So, why aren’t you hanging out with your girlfriend?”
“She’s not my girlfriend.” Oh, that didn’t sound like a gradeschooler whining at all. “Still in the getting to know each other phase.”
One of the girls spoke up, and again with the names I didn’t know. “I heard you got into her car after school yesterday.”
Not knowing about them doesn’t stop them from knowing about me. Hurray. “All we did was talk. Mostly about school and superhero stuff.” Can we please drop this conversation?
“Well, you better fix that soon.” Bear jumped in. “Chicks like it when the guy takes charge. If you don’t seal the deal, she’ll find someone who will.”
There were murmurs of agreement from a lot of the others who had decided this was the most interesting conversation at the table. Explaining that I tried and got shot down and yelled at was not the correct course of action, so instead I shrugged it off.
“You’re probably right. On the plus side, at least I don’t have to worry about standing girls up and lying about it because I’m scared to tell them I have powers. I don’t know why they keep recycling that plot, it was old in the sixties.”
There was a painful pause before one of the girls spoke up. “Oh! Like Son of Manwolf Two!”
Another girl cut in. “Isn’t that the one where Jackman does a full frontal scene?”
“Man, that scene was so badass!” One of the other guys laughed. “They blew up a building on him, and then showed him howling while regrowing his skin. My little brother almost threw up! Hey, do you think you could take being in an exploding building?”
A few expectant gazes turned my way. “Umm, yeah, I don’t see why not. It doesn’t matter how bad I’m hurt, my power kicks in and I’m fine a moment later.” Compared to Kitten, an exploding building sounded cozy. “I’d just find myself standing on the sidewalk or something after a second.”
Bear’s voice cut in. “So, think you could take him? The movie Manwolf, I mean. I know the real one’s dead.”
I had no idea. Kitten would have eaten Manwolf alive, but I couldn’t claim I held up much better. “Umm. Yeah, I think I would win that one. Sure, he might have claws and the ability to fight by sense of smell alone, but I can’t be killed. There’s no way he’d be able to beat me, and since his powers require eating raw meat to charge up, I could just keep fighting him until he ran out of power and starved.”
“You mean nothing can hurt you, at all?” Bear didn’t seem to buy it.
No, plenty of things hurt like a bitch, I just can’t be injured or killed. “Nothing I’ve run into so far.” If I did have such an obvious vulnerability, Kitten would have shoved it down my throat already. “Unless I have some kind of special vulnerability to claws. I don’t exactly make a habit of letting other men shove their fingers inside me.” That earned a few chuckles and the occasional complaint. “But enough about my love life. Hey, Alex, how come we never see you with a girl?” Consider that payback for putting me on the spot earlier.
Alex shifted a bit. “That’s… complicated.”
“He has a mysterious girlfriend he won’t tell us about because he’s ashamed.”
“It’s true.” Alex smirked, looking at the guy who made that comment. “But can you blame me? Anyone would be ashamed to introduce girls to my friends.”
There was a chorus of retorts. I only heard a few of them. “That’s cold.” “Asshole.” “I see how it be.” A balled up wrapper came out of nowhere, and Alex was barely able to block it in time. All good natured teasing.
Alex just shook his head. “In all seriousness, it’s complex. And that’s before considering my parents. Umm, that’s not to say they’re bad or anything, but they really push me and my sisters to succeed. Sports, school, the whole nine yards. I don’t have time to have a girlfriend and deal with all that. And I don’t have superpowers that add six hours to every day of my life. Besides, she’s got other things to worry about. There’ll be plenty of time after high school.”
There was a time when I told myself something like that. Did not work out for me. “Don’t be so sure about that. Life’s too short, and all that shit. Do you really want to risk asking ‘what if’ for the rest of your life, if something bad happens?”
He hesitated for a moment, and I could swear he was studying me. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
I glanced at the clock, then stood up. “I… gotta take care of a couple things before class.”
I managed to get out of the cafeteria before starting to cry. By the time I made it to home ec, I’d gotten control of myself. Didn’t mean I was paying an awful lot of attention to the teacher or my project, but at least I wasn’t about to humiliate myself by running out of class for a third time in a month.
On the plus side, we were finished with those gingerbread houses- I think the teacher took pity on me to give me a ‘C’ on that one- and now we were dealing with fake checkbooks and balancing imaginary budgets. Which left me next to Ferne clacking away on her calculator.
This is like the world’s most boring 4x game, done on paper. “Somehow, I suspect ‘jokes on you, I don’t need food’ won’t be an acceptable answer.”
“Are you planning to run out of class today?” Ferne seemed to have no problems, tapping away at her calculator.
“What gives you that idea?”
“Nothing, but if you’re planning to cheat by removing the food budget, I’m thinking I’ll claim a small business that adds an average of fifty dollars a week.”
It took me a minute to get what she meant. “But that’d only be a one time thing. You can’t claim a whole week off of that.”
“Wall Street begs to differ.” Ferne’s voice was the same near monotone as everything else she said.
I chuckled, that was actually pretty funny. “You’ll make a wonderful investment banker, some day.”
Ferne smiled, if briefly. “You take that back right now.”
Holy shit, I actually made her crack a smile. “Okay, that’s encouraging. I’d hate to imagine my first villain would be ‘that chick in my class’. It’s just lazy storytelling to have the hero and the villain know each other.”
“As far as tired clichés go, it has seen more mileage than most.” Ferne looked down at her papers, shuffling them around. “And of course they’re always either best friends or worst enemies once their identities get revealed.”
“Not to mention it always happens right after a major climax when the writers are out of ideas. See, that’s why I blew my identity right after getting my powers. I wanted to be original, so I got it out of the way before I had a nemesis.” Except Kitten, and I’m pretty sure she isn’t in school. Based upon the lack of corpses. “Now we’d better get back to work before the teacher awakens and summons a plague of locusts on us.”
“Speak for yourself, I finished five minutes ago.”
“That’s so not fair.”
“Would you like a tutor? For a limited time, it’s only ten dollars. I’ll even throw in a couple book rescues for free.”
Okay, this was worth it just to call her bluff. I reached into my pocket and grabbed a five, offering it to her. “You have a deal. I’ll get you the other half tomorrow.”
She reached over to grab it. “I’ll just file the other half as a second quarter tax write off and third quarter profit.”
Her hand brushed against mine, followed by my power instantly mapping her body. And I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at. Several images of different people, they flashed by too quickly for me to really get an idea of how many. I could tell some were male, some female. One might have been Ferne’s. Oh, you have got to be kidding me.
She sighed, clearly not happy. “Nothing makes us more vulnerable than loneliness, except greed.”
Was that a quote from somewhere? I got the gist of it, that she knew that I knew. “Umm, maybe we should talk later.”
“How’s tomorrow sound?”
“Good, I guess.”
Put that on the pile with all the other crap I have to worry about. At least now I wasn’t so nervous about seeing Cassie.
Okay, turns out I lied. Cassie terrifies me. Enough that I was thinking about ditching history altogether. Instead, I got there early. She couldn’t quite meet my eyes here, either, instead doing everything she could to stare at her book. My former favorite teacher, as perky as ever, had us back on on the western expansion era of history, with the legends and the turmoil of that era. I couldn’t help but notice Miss Harmon’s tone was a whole lot less positive than the textbook.
She wanted us to focus on the horrors inflicted on the natives. The book, when it bothered putting effort into sounding like it cared at all, portrayed the pioneers as heroic explorers discovering new lands for America. For the most part, the fact that other people were there first went ignored. Not that I was paying much attention. The total amount of brainpower I devoted to class could have been done by a potato.
I jumped when the bell rang, rushing to get out before Cassie did. She wasn’t in much of a rush at all, so by the time she got out the halls were already starting to clear. She looked like she was going to turn and go back into the classroom rather than talk to me.
“I’m sorry!” I barked that just a bit to loud, and other students looked at me. A couple of the girls even inched a bit closer, intent on hearing the rest of the conversation. “Umm, yeah, sorry about yesterday. Can we, well, talk about it? Maybe outside?”
She smiled at me, and it felt like the world had been lifted off my shoulders. “Oh, god, I was going to apologize to you!”
The pair of gossip hounds tried to inch closer without being noticed. “Really?” Of all the many hundreds of things I had expected to hear, that was not one of them. Why didn’t I get telepathy? I could have erased Kitten’s brain and gone on to understand the female mind. Best power ever.
“Yeah, really,” Cassie insisted, pulling me out of that train of thought. She stepped closer to me, close enough that we could talk without eavesdroppers hearing. Unless they wanted to get into touch range. Close enough that I could smell her perfume. “I was a bitch, I’m sorry.”
“Hey, I’m the one who, uh,” tried to feel you up.
“No, no, that’s perfectly natural. It’s just…” she hesitated for a moment. “Well, I’ve never actually done that before.”
“Oh.” There were like thirty rumors that said otherwise. Not that I bought into the rumor mill. “That’s okay, we don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Well, seeing as I like to imagine I’m not a steaming sack of donkey shit, yeah. What kind of asshole says otherwise?”
“Umm… all of my ex boyfriends. And both my ex girlfriends.”
“Girlfriends? So you’re…” this could be lots of fun in the future.
“Over that phase.” Well, never mind that plan. “I was just kinda hoping girls would be, y’know, less dickish than guys. Turns out they’re worse.”
“Oh. Well, as an aspiring superhero, I think I’m contractually required to treat you with respect. So, do you forgive me for getting a little too, umm, feely?”
“Of course. Want me to drive you home again? I was having fun helping you with your homework. Maybe we can look into costume design this time?”
Yes! Yes yes yes! “Sure. It’ll be just like yesterday, but without the makeout session.”
“Hey, I didn’t say we couldn’t do that.” Cassie had leaned in close enough that I could feel the heat of her breath. “Just, no more.”