NervousUncertain. Chloe hugged me with more strength than usual. “Do you think this is a good idea?”
“She’s been a model prisoner thus far.” AwkwardDiscomfort. “Uh, yeah, aside from that whole lack of boundaries thing. She’s getting better, though, right?” Even as I said it, I knew from Chloe’s emotions that she had not.
I accepted that I benefited from Cecelia’s immodesty to a degree that far outweighed the downsides. As much as Chloe didn’t want to admit it, she found our shapeshifting pseudo-captive as hot as I did, and that desire translated into perhaps the most enthusiastic physical relationship a lesbian could have with a man. Let alone one with my less than stellar sex appeal.
UncertainWorry. “I’m just worried, is all.” She released me, then levitated to be at eye level. “What happens if she acts like she did with Beatrice around your friends?”
They’d retreat to three of Roger’s bathrooms and masturbate until they died of exhaustion. Except perhaps Keith; I got the impression he wasn’t into girls, or guys for that matter. It struck me that if he ever got powers, he’d probably become a Mentat or Vulcan or something. Assuming he had any control over what powers he got, at least.
I opted to give Chloe the real answer, instead of my internal joke. “Well, first Keith would tell her she’s ruining the game, then threaten to dock our characters a level if we pay attention to her. It’s something he’s done before.”
ConfusionIrrelevant. “I suppose that’s a start. I always got the feeling he didn’t like me, think he’ll be mean to Cecelia?” DangerUnpleasant. “That could get ugly.”
“He doesn’t like anyone who’s popular, that’s just who he is.” I never took much stock in geek culture as its own thing, despite being a de facto member, but Keith lived it. He tied everything he was into the superiority of the nerd over normal people. “Roger will do what Roger always does and try to impress her with stories about how rich his family is.”
ContemptDisgust. “I hate people who do that. It’s tacky and… ugh…”
She wasn’t wrong. “It’s not that he’s malicious or putting others down, he’s just lonely and desperate to be liked. Which other people pick up on, then avoid him, which makes him even more desperate and lonely. I doubt Cecelia will do anything other than think he’s a loser, like everyone else does. She dealt with Wiki well enough, Roger’s similar, but without the unpredictable mood swings.”
“If you say so.” DoubtGuilt. “God, I’m such a bitch, talking about your friends like this.”
The only person you’re a bitch to is yourself. I cupped her cheek with my right hand, noting the deep contrast in our colors that served only to distract from the contrast in our life experiences.
“Hey, you’re allowed to worry.” I am bringing a card carrying violent psychopath into a group of people. The me of a few months ago would have been flipping the fuck out right about now. “Still, if we’re going to keep this up, we have to socialize her somehow. At least my friends are weird enough that they won’t talk about her behind her back for saying or doing something a little off.”
GratitudeGuiltUncertain. “Really? They don’t judge people behind their backs? Wow, makes me feel worse.”
“Oh, they definitely judge people behind their backs, that’s human nature.” Or so I tell myself so I don’t feel bad when I do it. “But they only do it to the preps, jocks, and ‘normies’. When it comes to their fellow weirdos, they’re the most accepting people you could ever ask for.”
ReliefHope. “Well, guess by that standard they’ll love Cecelia.”
Oh, you have no idea. “By the end of the night, she shall be the legend they tell their grandchildren.” Now that I said it out loud, I found myself believing it. “I’m more concerned about you. Are you sure you’re safe to do this alone? I mean, the guys will be pissed, but-”
LoveRejection. Chloe silenced me by pressing a finger on my lips. Some part of me recognized that if she wanted, she could rip my jaw out of my skull with around the same amount of effort. “Dom, it’s Adam we’re talking about here. He won’t hurt me.” CertainTrust.
Well, can’t argue with that, and trying will only cause strife. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but all kinds of things can go wrong. I’d feel safer if we didn’t split the party in a time of war.”
AnnoyancePlea. “Dom, you know Heritage won’t go after me, especially out of costume, and even leaving out being my brother, Adam’s one of my idols. You’d like him, he’s…” AwkwardDiscomfort. Chloe hesitated for several seconds. “Well, what I was going to say is he’s a lot like you, but, yuck.”
That’s a way to put it. “What if I told you I don’t like me very much?”
“I’d say you’re fishing for compliments from your girlfriend.” She smirked, then gave me a quick peck on the lips. “Point is, he’s my brother and he won’t hurt me any more than you’d hurt Beatrice. And I promise you, my parents kept their… activities… a secret from him just like they did with me. He’d be horrified to find out what they were involved in.”
Which is why she won’t tell him what’s going on. “Sorry, I guess paranoia’s just the name of the game these days.”
AcceptanceLove. “Look at it this way. How would Dad even know to target me? We’re the only people on earth who know a three-person Pairbond can exit. Even if he did know I’d be more vulnerable without the two of you, what could he do? He knows Adam would protect me with his life, if he had to. It won’t happen.” UncertainFear. “If Dad wanted to go after us, he’d start with you. You’re the one who’s most vulnerable, when you’re at home asleep and I’m in an underground fortress which makes me a hundred times stronger than I’d otherwise be.”
All valid points, if a bit exaggerated. I’m the weak link, the soft and squishy target compared to these girls who have a combination of near invulnerability and superhuman healing to make them stronger than I could ever be.
SupportLoveUpset. “Don’t think of yourself like that!” She pressed in close, then wrapped her legs around my hips. “I love you, and if you love me you’re not allowed to put yourself down. You have to love the things your girlfriend loves, it’s a law.”
She’s getting better at reading the link. I seemed to be more able to shrug off the negative side effects, but it came as no surprise that Chloe was able to read the information that came through in greater depth than I. Perhaps it was a matter of her having more practice overnight with Cecelia, or perhaps she had more natural empathy. “I don’t seem to recall any rules like that.”
“How many friends do you have that have been in successful relationships?” RealizationApology. “Uh, that sounded worse than I wanted it to.”
“Don’t apologize for being right. About my friends, or about me. I am the one who takes the most risks, and have the worst power if things do go wrong.” Perhaps I had more utility options than Chloe, but in a straight fight I was the more vulnerable target. Which said a lot about our powers when a walking mountain of steel was ‘vulnerable’. I put my arms around her, and squeezed her as tight as I could. “Believe me, if I thought I could get away with it, I’d move out here with you in a heartbeat.”
DesireLoveAmused. Her eyes sparkled, literally, with glints of blue and green. “Oh, I see where this is going.” When she kissed me this time, it was anything but soft. It was until I broke it to breath that she let me go. “Umm, we’ll worry about that later.” ReluctanceNecessary. She drifted back, then landed on her feet. “Right now, Cecelia’s finished her shower. She, uh, just stopped using her power to dry herself. She’ll be out in a minute.”
Oh. I tabled the question of how Chloe could know that. “You’re the best.” I adjusted my clothes. “You sure you don’t want me to drive you to meet with your brother?”
WantRejection. “It’s better if you don’t.”
I know. “Okay, but you’ll be on your own after. I don’t know how long you plan to spend with your brother, but game nights tend to go until late.” Roger’s parents did tend to hold a stricter curfew when girls were over, in the rare moments it happened, but I still expected we’d be leaving around ten.
AcceptanceConfident. “I’ll be fine on my own.” AnticipationDesire. Her devious smile was at odds with her innocent rounded face. “Maybe I’ll go do some shopping. I could use a few new outfits.”
If you don’t stop thinking about her in lingerie, you’ll never make it to game night. I took a breath, then ignored the hormones. “I’m sure I’ll love whatever you get. As you just informed me, I have to, it’s a law.”
“Awesome,” Cecelia’s voice came from the entrance to the base. “Now all you have to do is teach him to roll over and fetch, and he’ll be practically housebroken.”
I turned to tell Cecelia off, then stopped dead. The girl had picked her eastern Asian features again, but I wasn’t prepared for the transformation of the rest of her look. She was wearing a pair of baggy jeans and an even baggier t-shirt rather than her usual tight clothes, yet still managed to show off some cleavage through the low-hanging collar. Her hair, normally down between her shoulders, was done up in some blend of braid and bun that would have taken hours for anyone who wasn’t a shapeshifter. The glasses, thick-rimmed as they were, completed the ensemble. She’d even altered her skin tone so that it was more plain than usual.
Somehow, in a way that no doubt spoke more of psychology than biology, this made her more attractive than her usual looks. Perhaps because she looked much more attainable than the statuesque bombshell appearance. Not that I had any interest in cheating on Chloe, let alone with a fourteen year old serial killer. “Wait, are those real prescription glasses?”
She shrugged. SmugSuccess. “Took forever to change my eyes so I don’t get a headache. So, how do I look? Perfect for our date, right?”
“It’s not a date!” Chloe cut in. HesitationStupid. “Look, you guys can do what you like, but it’s so not a date. You’re just hanging out with a bunch of guys playing video games.”
AmusedVictory. “I bet if you ask them, they’d disagree.” With exception to Keith, Cecelia wasn’t wrong. She rested a hand on her hip, in the process pushing in her shirt to show her figure hadn’t changed beneath the clothes. “So, do I look the nerd-girl part?”
Oh, so much yes. “Close enough. Frankly, maybe a little too good. If they start expecting you to know geek subculture, but you don’t, they’ll figure something’s up. Better to admit ignorance than be caught in a lie.” Unless you’re a politician.
AgreementSmug ConfidentPleased. “I have a plan for that.” She put on a pout that would have been innocent and adorable if I didn’t know who it belonged to. “I come from a religious home so strict they still think rock music is the devil. I’m supposed to be at bible study with friends, but I’m rebelling.”
Huh. “That would work.” I looked over at Chloe, who was less than pleased right now. “Well, we should get going. You’re sure I can’t give you a ride?”
TerritorialFrustrated. “No, I’m fine. I got plenty of charge in the armor, and there’s lots of places I can stash it.” HopefulSupportive. “You two go ahead and have fun on your ‘date’, and we’ll meet back here tonight, okay?”
I considered explaining how she was being irrational, but I knew from experience that would have the opposite of the desired effect. “Sure, see you tonight.” I watched Chloe fly off, then turned my attention back to Cecelia. “Alright, let’s get going. And let’s discuss cover stories on the way there. My friends are every bit the geek you’d think they were, and like all geeks they have absurd attention to detail. Any major screw ups, they’ll catch, and they know everything there is to know about me except the powers.”
“So I’ll have to say I don’t know you that well.” Cecelia slid down the hill to where my truck was waiting. “Maybe we met through Chloe? Like Wiki says, hot chicks hang out with other hot chicks.”
“Could work, but most of them have classes with Chloe. They’re not part of her social group, but they’d know you’re not a regular part of it.” I dismissed ‘cousin’ due to apparent races. “Hmm, how about through Bea? I tell them Nanna tried to set her straight by sending her to some sort of Sunday school program.” Sounded like something Nanna would try, if we could afford it, and Bea was the school’s local ‘bad girl’, anyway.
“Oh, and that fits perfect with my rebellion stuff!” Cecelia hopped over a particularly unstable set of stones. Even in her baggy clothes, she was more agile that I could ever hope to be. “And all I have to do is say I don’t wanna talk about it, which is the best way to hide not knowing!”
As far as plans went, it was an excellent start. Most of the drive back to town involved planning out our story, how we met and the whole nine yards. I admit, I really got into it and the idea of fooling my friends with such a stunt was something of a thrill. Before I knew it, we were pulling into the driveway of the modest mansion Roger’s family owned. His family wasn’t quite as wealthy as Chloe’s, perhaps, but the were still amongst the school’s top ten list.
SurprisedImpressed. “Wow. This place is huge.” Cecelia’s eyes scanned the estate. “He owns it?”
“His parents do, at any rate. His uncle owns the woods we stuck our secret base, too. I’d tell you all the details, but why bother when Roger will tell you, himself, tonight?”
UncertainCurious. “Hey, if you got friends with this kinda cash, why do you even need the bounty hunting? Can’t you just, like, ask to borrow a million dollars or something?”
Because he might even say yes, and it would mean the death of any and all of my remaining self respect. “Just because his parents have money doesn’t mean he gets to use it however he likes. Anyway, we’re at the point now where we have enough to last, if we’re frugal about it.” I pulled my car into the side driveway which led to the wing we liked to hold our games.
I spotted Dan and Keith next to Keith’s vehicle. Much like me, Keith had a more utilitarian vehicle, a truck meant to do work rather than look good. The differences were that his wasn’t two decades old, and he had a choice in the matter.
I pulled up next to Dan’s sports car. The embarassment of my crappy old truck parked next to a handful of expensive new vehicles was a pain I’d long thought I’d gotten over, but Cecelia’s pressence agitated that old wound. I ignored it as best I could. “Okay, just remember they don’t bite.”
AmusedTeasing. “Well, that’s a disappointment.”
We got out together, and I rushed over to meet the guys first. “Hey, guys, sorry it’s been so long since I’ve been able to make time. Summer job’s a… guys?” Both of them were just looking through me.
I turned my head to see that Cecelia had adjusted her shirt while I wasn’t paying attention. It was still the same baggy affair she’d gotten gotten into my truck with, but she’d tied the excess cloth into a knot on her right side, which had the effect of pulling it tight around her chest, drawing the neckline down even lower, and leaving just a hint of skin showing on her stomach. In short, she looked amazing.
AmusementVictory. “So, Dom, are you going to introduce me to your friends?”
God damn it. There was nothing I could do about it, now. “Uh, right. This is Keith.” I gestured to him, first, because he’d feel slighted if I didn’t. In most ways he was the leader of our group dynamic, the archetypal alpha-geek, if only in his own mind. He even had the all-American good looks and confidence to fit in with the preps, if he didn’t have such contempt for them. “He’s our resident rules expert and the guy who murders our characters.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said. His politeness was cold, and I could almost hear his brain preparing all the ways he’d get even with me for bringing her along and disrupting his carefully laid out campaign plans with an unexpected element.
“And Dan’s our class clown, both in an out of class,” I said. In a lot of ways, Dan was what I imagined Chris Farley would have been like in high school, in terms of both weight and temperament.
“Charmed, m’lady,” Dan bowed toward Cecelia. “And may I have the honor of your name? Phone number? Hand in marriage, perhaps? I’m willing to negotiate.”
IncredulousAmused. “Well, for now just call me Lee. Maybe I’ll tell you what it’s short for, later.”
“Ouch.” Dan put both hands over his heart. “Zero for three. Whatever did I do to deserve such treatment?”
PleasedAbsurd. “I’m not sure, yet. So, where’s the game at? I hope you don’t mind, but I’m pretty new, but Dom makes it sound like so much fun!” She bounced on her toes with the last three syllables, which made a couple other things bounce as well.
Keith stepped between her and Dan, before he could pull any more stunts. “I’ll show you, while they get the stuff ready for the game.” He walked as he spoke, leaving no opportunity for objection.
After they made it a bit away, Dan leaned over to me. “Uh, dude, did you blow your job money to hire a prostitute to game with us? Because that would make you a god.”