I hated gym. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, I actually loved gym, up until I gained my powers. Now I was at constant risk of using just a little too much strength or otherwise doing something inhuman. It put me off balance and made my timing just a little worse. I went from being the star athlete to being barely adequate.
For that, and the usual laws against powers in sports, I should have dropped out of the class. Instead, I kept the lie these last couple weeks, in hopes that I’d make it to summer break without incident. Next year, I could stay out of sports without drawing too much suspicion.
What I really hated was changing for gym. I made a habit of finding the quietest corner and hiding while I changed, let my friends think I was just shy rather than suspect it ran so much deeper. On the plus side, it was my last class of the day, so I could take a shower in privacy if I didn’t mind staying in the building a few extra minutes.
“So, how big is it?”
I jumped, twisting around to face the voice while covering myself with my hands. Not that there was much worth covering. “Geez, Kathy, you nearly gave me a heart attack.” The brunette wasn’t one of my close friends, but like most of the students here we’d known one another since grade school. She was also the shoo-in for head cheerleader once we started our senior year, and a living example of the ‘queen bitch’ stereotype.
“Don’t dodge the question.” Kathy’s usual smile now bordered on the sadistic. “How big is your boyfriend’s dick?”
What. “I… I don’t know!” I took a breath and found a plausible reason without inviting suspicion that we weren’t dating. “Seriously, we haven’t even been together for a month! Do you jump into the sack with every guy you date?”
“No, but then I never moved in with any of my boyfriends.” Kathy didn’t lose her smile.
How did she find out? “I… I’m not… he just takes me to school from-”
“Mary talked to Jay.” Those words killed the pathetic lie I was trying to build before it even formed in my mind. Mary was her little sister, who went to the same middle-school as my brother. “She says that according to him, you haven’t been home for weeks.”
The more I tried to deny it, the deeper she’d be able to sink the barbs. I turned off the water and grabbed my towel.
Not having much choice, I drew on examples of my mother when she brought out the metaphorical claws. Whatever I thought of her, she never lost control of a situation. “Do you have a point?”
“Just wanted you to know that I know.”
“Okay, you know.” I crossed my arms. “I’d offer you a cookie, but I left them in my other towel.”
“What I can’t figure out is why your parents are letting you get away with it.” Kathy leaned against the wall. “This is the sort of thing the tabloids would be all over if they found out. Rich girl hooks up with poor boy, it’s the sort of story that writes itself.”
“I wouldn’t know, you’d have to ask them.” For the first time, I was glad my powers were so closely tied to my emotions. I would have been in full panic mode if not for the practice I’d had controlling my feelings of late. “I don’t care one way or another.”
Kathy walked closer. “I don’t believe you.”
“One more thing I don’t care about.” I approached as well, keeping my eyes locked on hers. Times like this made me wish I was about six inches taller. “Your options are either to call my bluff, if it’s a bluff, or fuck off. Anything else is just a waste of my time.”
We stood there in silence, neither willing to back down but having nothing specific to say. Eventually I stepped around her. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” I went for my clothes.
Kathy wasn’t far behind, but she went for the exit instead. She stopped right at the door. “Thing is, I would have bet money that you’d rather hook up with his sister.” Having taken her parting shot, she left.
With her gone, I allowed myself to feel again. I leaned against the wall and fought to keep myself from hyperventillating. I thought I’d kept my secrets better than that. Then, Kathy always was good at finding gossip where no one else could. I told myself it didn’t matter, that the worst she could do is spread a nasty rumor or two, and words didn’t matter to me.
By the time I could convince myself I believed a word of it, my hair had dried. It was well past time for me to leave. I forced a smile as I left the locker room, through the gym where the cheerleaders were doing their warmups. Kathy and I exchanged suitably bitchy looks, and I resolved not to let her ruin the rest of my day.
Domenic was waiting near the side exit nearest to the gym, talking to a couple of his friends. He looked up at me. “Well, looks like it’s time for me to get going. See you Monday.”
“See ya,” the chubby guy, I think his name was Dan, smiled awkwardly at me. “You, too, Chloe.”
I put on my best smile. “Yeah, see you.” In truth, I wasn’t that used to attention from guys. I think I shot enough of them down that they’d given up and moved on to girls that were more, shall we say, ‘receptive’. Didn’t stop it from being awkward, especially with these boys, who had all the social graces of an intoxicated raccoon.
“Hey, you think you’ll be able to make it tomorrow?” I didn’t know the other boy’s name, just that he could afford to scrub his face a bit more. He was staring right at me, as he usually did. “You’re already a level behind, and Keith’s getting ready to drop a rock on you.”
Domenic hesitated for a moment, before glancing my way. “Sorry, it’s kinda hectic with college apps and everything, and I’ll need to get a job this summer. It might be better to just drop out gracefully now. Hey, there’s that lizard-man vampire, right? Just have him turn my guy and then you can turn him into a miniboss.”
“Summer job, got it.” The other guy gave me a look only slightly less bitchy than Kathy’s. “Dunno how we’re gonna play without our cleric.”
I understood less than half of what they were saying, but I knew it was my fault.
“I’m sure you’ll think of something. Keith’s good at rolling with the punches. Like when Roger had to go with his folks to Spain last summer.” Domenic reached his hand out to me. “Well, let’s get going before someone kicks us out.”
“Okay. Bye, guys.” I offered a light smile and wave, neither of which I meant, before putting my hand in Domenic’s. I waited until we were out of earshot before I spoke up. “Sorry for getting in the way again.”
Domenic’s hand squeezed mine. “Not this again.” He turned to face me. “If you were getting in my way, I’d tell you so. Honestly, I was looking for a way to get out of it for a while without everyone thinking I was an ass.”
I wasn’t sure I believed him. Why couldn’t I be one of the ones with Truthsayer powers? “You’d better not be lying to me.” It was bad enough that he had to go out of his way to accommodate me in his life, I didn’t want him to have to lie to me about it.
“Of course not.” He offered the usual boyish grin, trying to convince me. “I used Bea as an excuse a couple times, too. Besides, I’ve got something so much better to do this weekend. But we gotta get in the truck first.”
The enthusiasm seemed genuine enough. “Okay.” We waited in silence until Domenic got out of the parking lot. “So, what’s this secret that’s more important than your friends?”
“I finally got my payment for the guns!”
“That’s great!” I meant that, too. Helping with his financial situation was the one thing I could do for Domenic that wasn’t, as Beatrice would put it, ‘the obvious’. “How much did you get?”
“A bit over five grand.” He sounds so happy over so little. “I mean, it’s not everything I need, but it’s a good start. Certainly enough to hold us over and fund that road trip to the coast this summer.”
I smiled and brought my hand over to rest on his shoulder. He was putting a lot of hope in that particular basket. “That’s great.”
“So, I’ll need the weekend for planning and picking up a check that I can cash at a bank. I don’t want to buy anything with this card that can be traced back to me. They even taxed it already so there’s no need to do paperwork. It’s remarkable how convenient they made the whole process.”
I bit my tongue on the ‘tax’ part. It wouldn’t accomplish anything to explain how immediate taxation served the state rather than the citizen.
“Of course it’s convenient; they know better than do it any other way.” Rather than economics, I channeled my Imbued Studies lessons. “Statistically, we tend to be independent personalities who don’t respond well to situations where we submit to other people. Every study shows that the harder someone tries to control us, the harder we resist. Often we’re more likely to become violent than back down.” Part of why my parents let me run. “So, the government offers incentives to get us to cooperate of our own volition.”
Domenic drove in silence as he absorbed that. “So essentially they’re manipulating us with money.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Part of me wants to be insulted, but it’s hard to complain when they just gave me five grand for not being an asshole.”
“It is an elegant system.” I took my hand away from his shoulder. I guess I’ve been doing the same thing, manipulating him, but without much as far as ‘incentives’ go. I wished I could do more, but in addition to not being a lie detector, I lacked the ability to rewrite my sexuality. Well, there is one thing I can do. “So, if we’ve got a bit of time, I’ve got some idea for my costume I’d like your help on?”
“Uh, sure, we’ll need to suit up anyway, if I want that check. I’d like to exploit the government exploiting me.”
I stretched my arms up, feeling the metal shift along my skin. With Domenic’s power in action, it was a rather sensual experience, like one of those mud baths at the spa, coupled with a light massage. “Okay, that’s pretty good. But I could use more maneuverability, move the bottom up a bit more.”
Domenic hesitated. “Umm, I can already see your belly button. Much higher and, well, have you ever heard the term ‘chainmail bikini’?”
I faked a confidence that I couldn’t make myself believe. Domenic’s gaze was both empowering and embarrassing. “That’s the idea. I want as much skin showing as can be done reasonably.”
“Umm, if this is about, well, me… you don’t need to do this.”
“It’s not.” I am such a liar. “It’s about designing around my power. The more energy I waste on protecting clothing, the sooner I run out and am just a target for whatever crazy has the right gun. And we already know I can accidentally set stuff on fire.” Although I haven’t made that mistake in a while. “My powers are better without a lot of clothes in the way.”
“But not so much better that you can’t wear a full outfit.” I wasn’t certain if I found his concerned tone sweet or insulting. I settled on a combination of both. “Maybe we can share a knight motif?”
“In addition, it’s a great disguise.” Domenic wasn’t the sort of man who would be persuaded by emotional arguments, so I stuck to the logical. “I’d never wear something like this, which makes it a great way to ensure no one connects Daybreak to Chloe. Speaking of, add a bit more metal to the bust and hips, please.”
A shiver ran down my spine as metal shifted. Even through my tank and shorts, the sensation was bizarre, though not unpleasant. The change exposed more of my stomach and added the illusion of curves I’d never have. The shifting sensations faded as the metal took a solid state. “You are aware that I’m going to need to help you dress every time.”
I looked up at him. “I’m sure we can come up with something. Hinges and clasps aren’t-”
An explosion echoed through the neighborhood, followed a moment later by a second. I recognized them as gunshots in the aftermath. My head snapped toward the door. “I’m going.”