Mending: Part III

Mending

Part III: Time Out

Right before dinner, everything went to hell. Allen got into a shouting match with Sage and then Jaeger had decided to step in by introducing his fist to Allen’s nose. Caroline was the one who broke up the fight and calmed the situation down concerning Sage and Allen, Jaeger having ran out. After that, the adults got into a mess of screaming, arguing, with threats of lawsuits and legal retaliation.

With all the noise, I felt my anxiety hit me hard and I practically ran out of the house. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who needed some air as Amber came out a few seconds after me, opened her jacket and popped a cigarette in her mouth, which was against school rules — not that I cared — before walking off.  Unlike her I only took a few steps and lied down on the grass, focusing on the night sky and breathing calmly, my eyes closing and my brain drifting into that zen no-thoughts place. I stayed there for a moment, feeling the stress slowly flow away with each breath.

“Hey, are you alright?” I opened my eyes and saw Jenna standing at my side. “Couldn’t help but notice you sneaking out.”

“Yeah, just a bit noisy for me in there.”

“Why aren’t you spending time with your family?”

“I’m a local, so I see them all the time. Plus, dad seemed busy trying to deescalate the situation and Jason’s trying to win your mom over.”

“Oh. Mind if I sit with you?”

“Sure.” I sat down on the grass and she did the same.

“Can I ask you something?” She asked after a moment. “It’s not personal, I’m just kind of juggling my thoughts and feelings and I don’t know who else to talk to.”

“Eh, sure.”

“Is it weird that as much as I wanted to see Caroline and I was happy to see her, I kind of feel jealous right now…” Her chest flattened up against her knees as she spoke. “She’s living her dreams, making friends, going to do what she’s always wanted to do and even got a girlfriend… And me, I’m just stuck back home…”

“The fact she has superpowers can’t help.”

“That’s the thing… I’m a mutant too.”

“Really? What can you do?”

“I don’t know…” She sighed.

“You don’t know?”

“Since Colleen’s a mutant, our parents had me tested for the VNG as a kid, it came up double positive but I never manifested. Caroline’s a second generation, so she manifested over some stupid thing; she was just playing in the river, slipped and then blam manifestation. But Colleen and I are first generation mutants, it takes a strong stimuli to cause us to manifest. My sister had the dubious luck of getting hit by the only speeding car in miles.”

We didn’t quite know why second generation mutant manifested more easily, although the leading theory was something to do about hormone or another factor during pregnancy as second generations mutants with a non-mutant AFAB parents didn’t exhibit the same ease of manifestation. Out of curiosity, Ian had had me tested not long after he’d adopted me but it had come out with only a single positive, meaning I was only a carrier of the mutant gene.

“But so far nothing’s done it for me yet;” she continued, “I broke a leg while hiking, got into multiple fights with idiots from school, I played with fire, jumped in the river and tried just about anything I could think of… Add to that the stress of being gay in a small town and the isolation that comes from being the sister of the school’s only transgender and mutant person and it’s really hard to feel like my life’s going in the right direction…”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” I offered her a hug and she took it. We embraced for a moment before she let go.

“I want to be happy for her, I really do… And the fact all I feel is jealousy makes me feel terrible.”

“That’s alright. You know, someone once told me that feelings can’t be right or wrong, because we don’t control them. It’s what we do with them that’s right or wrong. You shouldn’t feel guilty about your feelings and if you support Caroline despite them, then you’ve done the opposite of wrong.”

“That’s a very wise person who told you that.”

“It was my therapist. She’s great, she’s also a huge blue lizard.”

“Doc Venus? Caroline told us about her.”

“The one and only. She’s my therapist and family doctor.”

“She sounds great and I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have just unloaded on you like that. I mean we’ve known each other for like an hour. And I’m complaining about being jealous of your girlfriend.” She said, letting out a self-derisive snicker. “Soooo not a good friendship starter.”

“It’s fine. I kind of get where you’re coming from. I mean I’m also a small town queer girl surrounded by people with superpowers when I don’t have any.”

“How’d you come to be a hero?”

I gave her a quick rundown of my life; what happened to my parents, how Ian had adopted me, what it was like being a kid who hung around the legion all the time, the reason Ian had sent me to Ravenhold in the first place. When I was done, Jenna wrapped her arms around me, giving me a tight hug.

“Thanks…” I muttered once she let me go.

“You’re welcome.” There was a second of silence.“It sounds like the argument’s died down. We should grab some grub before it gets cold or everyone forgets to leave any for us.”

“That sounds amazing. I’m not even a big brisket fan but after Caroline’s tofu taco last night, I’d eat a whole cow raw.”

“She made you eat tofu? Ew.”

“I know, she’s evil! I’m surprised you’re not defending her.”

“Eh, I’m not the biggest foodie in the world like the rest of the family.” She said with a shrug. “Mostly I know my way around a kitchen because it’s mandatory in our house; everyone helps cooking. But yes, Tofu is evil.”

“I have a feeling we’ll be good friends, Jenna.”

“Me too.” She said with a smirk.

We walked back inside together and as soon as Caroline saw me, she ran up to me.

“You disappeared. Where did you go? Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I just needed some quiet. Jenna was nice enough to give me some company.” She gave me a long, slow hug. “Everything alright here?” I asked.

“Well, nobody’s getting sued and Allen’s parents can’t legally withdraw him from the school for reasons I don’t know. Jaeger’s in big trouble, but I don’t know the detail.”

“Just another day in crazy town Maine.”

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Mending: Part II

Mending

Part II: Cute Things

My dad, Jason and I moved through the crowd and reached Caroline and her folks. Like many others, they had yet to disperse and find a corner for themselves, just standing there and using sign language to communicate, which I didn’t understand.  They saw us and my dad said something in sign language.

“You know how to sign?” Caroline asked, visibly surprised.

“Just a little.” Ian answered with a smile. “I used to date a guy who was deaf a few years back, he gave me the name. Thought me some basics. If I’d known you did, I would’ve signed to you earlier.”

I didn’t remember much about Dad’s relationship with Alejandro, having been there for a few months just before Jason had been born. They talked about it for a second and I zoned out.

“Hello again Colleen.” I said after a moment, making myself noticed.

“Charlie. Good to see you again.” She said. Her tone was nice and inviting but I still remembered the ‘I will crush you speech’ well. To my surprise, she didn’t seem too focused on me… Had Caroline not told her mom about us?

“Colleen, this is my dad Ian. Ian this is Caroline’s mom Colleen.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Dad answered. “I’ve heard quite a lot about you.”

“Likewise on both parts.”

I could feel a little something going on between them as they shook hands and smiled. Whether that was parental complicity or something else, I didn’t know…

“And the little guy hiding behind me is Jason. He’s shier than usual.” Jason practically hid behind dad’s legs. Doing the whole innocent kid routine. Caroline signed something to her mom.

“Hey, I’m Jenna.” The mystery girl introduced herself as the others kept talking, giving me a big smile.

She and Caroline looked pretty similar, both with a strong athletic build and a slightly unconventional appearance. Where Caroline had gone for the long white hair, Jenna had short tousled brown hair and also piercings on her lip, brow ,and many more on her ears. She rocked ripped jeans and a band tee. Needless to say, she was kind of hot…

“Didn’t know Caroline had a sister.” I said. In the past month, I hadn’t heard of her…

“She’s technically my niece, but since we’re the same age we’re more like sisters.”

“Oh. I’m Charlie.”

“Friend of Caroline?” She asked. Did she really not know?

“Yeah, uh, we’re roommates.”

“That’s nice, gotta say, I love your shirt.” She said, looking me up and biting her lip. My Blue Moon shirt was kind of nice, but I was a hundred percent sure she was just flirting with me.

“How have you been Caroline?” Caroline’s grandma asked her.

“I’ve been well…” She went quiet for a second. “Mom? Gramp, Gran? There’s something I wanted to tell you.”

“What is it peanut?” Her mom asked.

“Well…” Before I could think or react, she took my hand. “Charlie and I… We’re dating.” She quickly kissed my cheek and I stood there frozen. I couldn’t help but notice Jenna looked disappointed at the news…

“When did that happen?” Jenna asked.

“About three weeks ago?” Caroline answered, uncertain.

“Oh, faster than I thought it would then.” Colleen said.

“Faster than you thought?”

“I can spot a queer girl with a crush from a mile away. And this girl couldn’t be more obvious even if she was wrapped in the pride flag.”

“Guilty as charged.” I answered, raising my hands.

Before anymore on that subject could be said, Caroline’s phone beeped an alarm.

“Oh crap, dinner!” She yelled.

Without so much as a second of hesitation, she ran to the kitchen and checked the oven. We all followed her.

“Everything alright?” Her grandfather asked.

“Yes and no. We made dinner for sixteen and we’re like triple that now. We’re fine on brisket, thank god Allen wanted leftovers, but we’re going to need a lot more sides.”

“I sense a mission for the Campbell clan.” Jenna declared. “I’m up for it.”

“Everyone up for helping?”

We all agreed to it. Apparently the whole Campbell clan were all cooking masters so Dad and I got relegated to peeling vegetables while they did actual work and Jason endeared himself to Caroline’s grandma by pretending to be nice, he was sneaky like that. After a few minutes Caroline left us to check on everyone, asking about food allergies and stuff. My contribution was halted when Ahti and their clutch-mate came running toward me.

“Charlie, Charlie!” They called out.

“I’m here.” I said, getting on the other side of the counter.

The two of them stood completely naked save for Ahti who wore the polka-dotted bikini bottom Caroline had bought them. My gaze turned to Kulaat… She was cute. And I don’t mean in the adorable kind of way, I mean in the ‘I would totally want to snuggle her if it wasn’t for Caroline’ kind of cute. She had bright orange skin, her face was dotted by tiny round dots akin to freckles around her big flat nose, she had big bright green eyes and her belly had a light grey tone. I kind of smiled absently without realizing.

Kulaat muttered something, their tone worried, to Ahti in Ibariat and they answered back in the same language. She looked back at me then at her clutchmate and back at me again, all the while frowning, before staring weirdly. Was there something stuck in my braces?

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Yes. Can we have some pudding?” Ahti said.

“Oh sure.”

I went to my room and retrieved a cup from my personal stash. After I’d first introduced them to it, Ahti had become almost addicted to the stuff for some reason.

“Here you go.”

I gave it to them and they dug in, Kulaat a little reluctant until she tasted the butterscotchy goodness, then letting out a series of happy wuns. I just watched them for a moment, taken in by their happiness until I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw Caroline.

“Charlie?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s up?”

“Ahti needed a pudding delivery.”

“Why don’t you just give them in bulk?” She whispered.

“Remember when Ahti got sick?” She whispered back.

“Yeah?”

“Ate a whole twelve pack in one sitting. Almost did it again next time I tried that, I had to stop them.” Self control was definitely not one of Ahti’s virtues.

“Ready to get back to work?”

“Oh uh, sure.”

We took a few steps toward the kitchen before I spoke again. “So… You hadn’t told you mom you and I were dating?”

“No, it’s not like I was ashamed or anything, I was a little too jittery to say it over the phone or text.”

“Oh okay. She seems to have taken it well. To be fair, she did say I could date you, just that she’d break me if I hurt you. It was very supervillainy the way she’d said it.”

She stopped and turned toward me. “When was that?”

“Remember when we went to dinner?”

“Oh.”

“Saw through me in like a second.” She said with a nervous chuckle. “Said something about having been that girl.”

“My mom’s bi. She’s dated or seen casually a few women since I was little and before I was born. Always been open about it.”

I nodded at the information. We went back to work and soon enough we had a gigantic dinner ready. In hindsight calling for takeout would’ve been easier, but if Caroline’s family were any way like she was when it came to food, they might have lynched me if I’d dared propose such heresy.

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Us; Undefined: Part II

Us; Undefined

Part II: Phone Call

The next few days went along well. History class assigned us to do an oral presentation on different social movements around the world. By the luck of the draw, I was assigned the american civil rights movement in teams. Naturally, I chose to team up with Sage.

“You sure you want to team up with me? This is all american history, I know nothing about it.” They chuckled.

“You’ll be fine, it is a research project after all. And I’m really knowledgeable about it, totally read a ton about it.”

I opted not to share that the reason why had been less because it was my people’s rights and more that I was a total Centurion fangirl and he’d been an active and vocal member of the american civil rights movement…

Once class was over, the two of us settled down in the sunroom to work on it along with some hot chocolate. We were about an hour into it when my phone rang.

“It’s mine.” I declared taking it out my pocket.

“With the drum and bass ringtone, I kind of figured.”

“I made it myself, y’know.”

“I knew it sounded familiar.” They said with a smile. In the past weeks,

I’d showed them my own work. In exchange, they showed me a melody they’d written on the piano; a soft and slow tune with a melancholic or nostalgic air to it. To say it had been beautiful was an understatement.

“I’ll be right back.”

I skipped out of the room and into the garden before picking up.

“Hey Al.” I heard Sheila say on the other side of the line.

“Hey.”

“I’m calling because, well I miss you.”

“I miss you too.” I said, a sad smile forming on my lips. We’d never been this far apart since we’d been kids…

“Also, I’m really bored and thought I’d bug you for a while. What’s up on your end?”

“I was just hanging out with Sage.”

“That cute enby you sent me pics of?” She said. “I wasn’t interrupting anything, now was I?” She added, suggestively. Although Sheila generally identified as a lesbian, she was also open to femme-identifying non-binary folks like me.

“Yes, them…” I answered, feeling a little flustered. “And nothing’s going on, we were just listening to music while working on a history class presentation.”

“Such a shame, you don’t want to let someone else snatch them up before you, do you?”

“But—”

“Allison, you let them poke around your noggins, don’t go pretending there ain’t something going on.”

Her words got stuck in my head, replaying for a moment. Was it just teasing or an actual encouragement? She and I weren’t officially a couple anymore, but we were something alright… Something undefined but in love regardless… Could she really be pushing me toward someone else?

“So anything going on with you?” I feebly asked, hoping to stir the conversation and my train of thoughts away from Sage and I.

“Just baby sitting for the evening. And by that I mean just watching silly stuff on youtube.”

“Sounds riveting.”

“I know, right.”

As she said that, I heard some chatter in the background.

“Oh my god, Give me a minute—” There was more chatter. “Fine, you can have the phone.” I overheard her talking. “Your little brother wants to talk to you.” She then said to me.

“Alright.” I said with a chuckle. What was Tyrone doing there?

“I love you babe.” She said quickly.

“I love you too…” I muttered, feeling my chest tighten around my heart.

“Allison!” Tyrone said, having evidently wrestled Sheila’s phone away.

“Hey Ty. What are you doing at Sheila’s?

“Dad dropped me here, said he had something to do tonight. He did it last week too. I think he’s seeing someone.”

“Any idea who that might be?”

“No… You don’t think he’s going to replace mom, do you?”

“Nobody can ever replace her, Tyrone.”

“But if dad’s seeing someone else…”

“Tyrone, love’s not a finite thing, you can love more than one person. Dad can find love again and still love mom with all his heart. It’s been over three years since mom passed and I know mom would never want him to spend his life alone, she’d want him to be happy.”

“I guess…”

“I wish I could give you the biggest hug right now. You have no idea how much I miss you and dad.”

“I miss you too…. But it’s okay, we’ll see each other friday.”

“We will?”

I heard a scuffle through the phone. I tried to call out for an answer but got nothing for a solid minute except a weird buzzing for a second.

“It’s me again.” Sheila declared. “And I’m now sitting on the roof to keep a little someone away.”

“What was that about Friday?”

“Damn it…” She muttered. “There’s a surprise visit that we’re totally supposed to keep a secret coming up. Could you not tell anyone?”

“I guess I can do that. Does that mean you’ll be there too?”

“That’s a surprise too.”

“Well, I’ll look forward to being pleasantly surprised. I probably should go back and help Sage now.”

“You do that. Bye.”

“Goodbye.”

I hung up and took a moment to compose myself. I missed everyone so much, I hadn’t seen them in nearly a month, only spoken to them on the phone a few times and texted back and forth.

“Everything alright?” Sage asked when I came back inside.

“Yeah, it is.” I lied.

The words I’d spoken to Tyrone came back to mind. ‘love’s not a finite thing, you can love more than one person.’ I’d meant it but maybe it was easier when both of them weren’t still there…

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Gadgets & People: Part III

Gadgets & People

Part III: Intelligence

The next day, as we finished up science class, Yougen wheeled herself to the side counter where a cage had been placed. Inside was the class’ new if unusual pet; a tiny robotic crab thing Stanko had created and accidentally let loose in a battery stealing rampage.

“Who’s a good little robo-crab?” She said, speaking in baby speak. “Do you want the battery? Yes you do.”

She held up an AAA battery and dropped it in the cage, the robot jumping on it. Somehow it feed on battery juice. After quickly devouring its snack, the little robot let out a musical series of happy beeps. Why it was programmed to do that, I had no idea and Stanko didn’t even remember building the thing either…

“You need a better name than robo-crab. How about Zhan? In my home language it means cog. That’s a good name for you, isn’t it?”

“Yougen, we’ll be late for History class if we don’t go soon.” I called her.

“Coming!”

She turned herself around and said bye to Zhan.

“You really seem to like the little thing.” I said once she reached us.

“Why wouldn’t I? Robots are cool.”

“Well, there’s robots are cool kind of like and then there’s using the cutesy baby voice with a robot, kind of liking.”

“Zhan’s more than just a machine, it’s smart. Maybe not human-level smart but there’s definitely some real AI in there; it learns it adapts and grows. We never had that on my world, even before the earthfall.” She said, clearly excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence.“You’re the smart guy here, have you ever worked on AIs?”

“Not really, the European Union has some pretty tight anti-AI laws. So work on artificial intelligence is pretty radioactive, it’s not something you get into if you want a long prosperous career. You weren’t here yet, but there’s this nutbag of an AI called HYPERION — in all capital letters mind you — that’s been responsible for several terrorist acts. He’s very skynet-ish.”

Nobody was quite sure where it had come from or who had made it but in the eleven years since it had first appeared, HYPERION had proven itself resilient and above all else determined to fight ‘the enemies of the Nation’ as its broadcast had declared. It wasn’t a surprise that AIs had quickly come under heavy legal restrictions thanks to panic and hysteria.

“What’s Skynet?”

“Right, other world. It’s from an old famous movie; Terminator. An AI goes crazy and try to destroy humanity.”

“Guess I’ll add it to my list.” She said, taking out a notepad and writing it down. I could see dozens of movies, bands, plays and tv shows written on it. “By the looks of it, I’ll be caught up with Alephi pop culture in never.”

“Do you like it here at least?”

“I do, I’m a bit worried about how my family’s doing, but it’s nice not always struggling to put food on the table or getting worried about infected raids. Did I mention the food here is like amazing? There’s so many spices and different produces available. I swear I’ll be happy if I never see another potato or sauerkraut ever again.”

“You mentioned infecteds.”

“People like me who’ve completely succumbed to the black blood. One of them attacked me, it’s how I got stuck in a chair and became like it…”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. I’m fine!” She said, trying to be cheerful, but I felt like there was something she wasn’t telling me. But I didn’t press her for more answers.

Not that I had the time to if I wanted to as we reached Ja’Nael’s history class. Unlike Professor Apex who taught us about the world of parahuman, she was concerned with the mundane things.

Once class was over, I jogged over to Jaeger’s side as we all walked home.

“You weren’t at dinner last night.” I noted out loud.

“I snuck out again,” he shrugged.

“Again?” I asked, raising a brow. I hadn’t heard of a first time. “And what do you mean by sneak out?”

“Ah, right. The Raven is a bit sensitive about me going off the school grounds for, er, some reason,” he laughed awkwardly. “I made a friend,” he added.

“That’s nice I guess. Did you get into trouble?”

“Nothing that broke the law.”

“Good to know, I guess.” I added with a chuckle. “I made dinner last night, saved some for you in the fridge. Just look for the foiled-up bowl with your name.”

“Oh,” he blinked, looking taken aback. “T-thanks,” he murmured.

That night after class Caroline kept her promise of vegetarian delights, having made tofu tacos, which had been quite delicious and pure torture for Charlie, but other than that and Charlie finally getting her revenge on Jaeger by spicing his favorite biscuits with habanero extract — something I’d missed, being in my lab at the time — that Thursday went by fairly quietly.

***

Every Friday afternoon a bunch of us students would claim one of the gymnasium for a friendly game of no-powers football, which put us at a friendly rivalry with the paraball club next door as to who could get more members. Paraball was kind of like football except crazy; you could use your hands and superpowers too except to hurt other players.

From our class, only Jaeger had joined the football club but in the three weeks he’d been in, he’d stayed on the bench, just watching and keeping game scores as the rest of us played.

“You know, you could join us.” I said, coming up to him and taking a water bottle and drinking a shot before wiping my chest clean of sweat. Even in September, it could get pretty hot in the gym so most of us had ditched our shirts.

“I’m fine just keeping scores and watching.” He said with a shrug.

“You sure?” I asked, probably for the thousandth time since he’d joined.

Very sure.” He said, his eyes quickly darting down to my abs before coming back up. “And no way I can pull off the shirtless look.”

“Because of the wings or the scars?” He bit his lip and looked away at the question. “But you know it’s not mandatory.”

“Both, people tend to stare rather than focus on the game.”

Our conversation was cut short as Jaeger’s ID began beeping. He took it out and saw a message scrolling on the electronic band;

‘RETURN TO DORM ASAP’

“Is yours doing that too?”

“I left mine in the locker. Better safe than sorry.” I said with a shrug.

We left the gym, and I found out my ID was also displaying the message but nobody else’s in the building were so we got going. While we got changed in the locker, one of Jaeger’s friend, a lion chimera named Vanessa, came up to him and they had a quiet chat together.

When we came back to the house, the others were bunched up together, equally clueless so we joined them, waiting to see what would happen. To my surprise Charlie came to my side.

“I’m sorry.” She said in a low tone. “I was moody and difficult with you about your cooking. I didn’t really like it, but I should’ve just gotten something else instead of expecting you to cater to my taste.”

“Did Caroline make you apologize?”

“Yes and no…” She mumbled. “She wanted me to but she was right about my attitude.”

Admittedly I hadn’t expected her to be honest about Caroline making her apologize, but that counted for something I reckoned. As she finished apologizing, Mr. Martin came in for a surprise inspection which went fairly well. However once he was done, he opened the door of the house and let a flood of people come in.

Out of the crowd, I quickly spotted Sana, Vani and my step-mom Amrita, the three of them coming my way, with Vani holding onto her mom like a little monkey.

Skins: Part IV

Sasha Vasiliev, Vucari

September 2016

The next morning, I woke up feeling Karee’s gentle breath on my neck, her powerful armored arms wrapped around my torso. It didn’t take long for my heart to start beating out of my chest.

“Karee?” I whispered.

She didn’t answer and I whispered her name again.

She stirred a little a moment later and I saw her eyes open. She yawned, giving me a close up view of Tzari denture. In addition to the tusks protruding from their mouth, they had twice the amount canines humans had and looked like she could tear flesh straight from a carcass. Having studied Tzaries I knew their ancestors and closest living relative species were a mix between a boar and an armadillo.

“Karee?”

“Gar?” She mumbled and she shook her head. “English…” She then muttered to herself. “Yes?”

“You can let me go now.”

She removed her arms from around my body and I quickly got up.

“Thank you…” I answered, still feeling a little flustered.

“Is something wrong?”

“No, I’m just surprised you didn’t wake me.”

“You were very tired. I do not know earth culture, but for Tzari it is normal for friends to share bed.”

“You think of me as your friend?”

“Why would I not?” She said, with a frown.

“No reason, I guess I’m just a little surprised. You were the first alien I’ve ever met, I never really thought I’d be friend with one.”

“You are my first human friend.” She confessed. “I have met many humans. But many not be good, call me Cerdo espacio or Cara ósea.” She let out a low growl at the memory. “Even not bad ones, not good. Fear Tzari, see us different from humans; as interesting thing but not person. But you are different from them.”

“I guess I just try to judge people for who they are rather than what they are.” I said with a shrug. “And I know what it’s like to be different…” I bit my lip at the memories.

“You look sad.” She said, putting an armored finger on my chin and raising my head ever so slightly. “Is that my fault?”

“No, just bad memories.” I sighed. “Many people on earth don’t like Rashkru like me, think we are sick and wrong.”

She let out a snarl in answer, exposing her rather sharp teeth. “That is why I stay away from humans; I do not mean to hurt you, but they are primitive.”

“It’s alright, I kind of agree with you. We have a long way to go.”

She put her arms around me and hugged me. Evidently that was a gesture both our species shared. Once she let go of me we prepared ourselves for our second day of school, which thankfully went smoothly, even if I had to help Karee understand some of the more complicated ideas of ethics class. As soon as we all arrived back at the house, Abigail called a meeting in the living room.

“Alright, I thought we should organize tasks around here.” She proposed.

We all agreed and she got a white board and placed it so we could view it. She quickly outlined all the things that needed done in terms of cleaning and people started negotiation what they were okay to do and what they preferred not to.  I took a few dishes chore, trading away vacuum and lawn mower duties. I couldn’t stand the noise.

“As much as I like cooking, I think we should do a rotation because cooking for so many people is way too much.” Abigail then said, people once more agreeing. “Since there’s fourteen of us and seven days a week, we should pair up and claim a day. How does that sound?”

“Uh… There’s sixteen of us.” Harley pointed out.

“Fredrika and Ruth don’t eat our food. It wouldn’t be fair to make them cook for us.”

I looked at the two of them. Ruth’s large lizard like form was apparently vegetarian, eating mostly raw greens, fruits and roots, while Fredrika with her more humanoid but very catlike body was the opposite; being an obligate carnivore that could only stand minimally cooked meat.

“What about Kylie?”

My eyes turned to her. Unlike Ruth and Fredrika who were mutant paramorphs, Kylie wasn’t human to begin with, being Avian. Avians had been the result of a less than ethical american experiment to create chimeric bodies and transplant the consciousness of humans.

“She’s Avian, they can eat just about anything.” I explained, drawing all eyes on me. “I studied them before…” I sheepishly added.

Explanations over, we all got into teams. Karee immediately found me.

“Do you want to be cooking mates?” She asked.

“Sure, although I’m not too great, I’m warning you.”

“And I am from other world.”

“Another world.” I corrected her, making her smile.

By the luck of the draw, it was our turn to cook the next day. After class we made a quick detour to the library, Karee wanting to get Tzari books to help me learn her language, having become dedicated for the task. As I looked around for a specific book, she browsed the next aisles for stuff. After a solid ten minutes and a half dozen search in the section, I didn’t find it. Someone had checked it out or misplaced it. So I went back to Karee’s side.

“The book isn’t here Karee, someone else must have gotten it out already. I’ll need to ask the librarian if there’s an electronic copy so—” I began speaking but as I turned the corner I found Karee with a black guy, looking at her a little weirdly. “Hi, are you new here too?”

“Yeah, my name’s Allen.”

“I’m Sasha.” I said with a smile and they looked me a little weirdly, I could imagine the gears in his head wondering if I was a lesbian or something. “First time meeting a Tzari?”

“Y-yeah.” He answered sheepishly.

“That’s the beauty of Ravenhold. Everyone’s welcome regardless of species, sex, gender and everything so long as they want to help people.” I checked my phone and saw the time. “We better go back if we don’t want Harley to be all melodramatic about dinner being late like last night.”

“I hope you settle well.” Karee declared as we left the library, bookless.

We went back to the house and into the kitchen where I checked the state of the pantry. Cooking wasn’t exactly my forte. My mum and dad were both restaurant owners and operated a Mongolian-Russian fusion kitchen but their passion hadn’t passed down to me. But I could handle myself if I had to.

“So I was wondering about something.” I began, drawing Karee’s attention as she looked through the fridge, seeming as if she was lost. “What do Tzaries eat? I mean, I’ve seen you eat our food, but what is your food like at home?”

“It is different, but not very so… Different part, but similar foods. Does that explain?”

“We have similar dishes but different ingredients?”

“Yes. But Tzari ingredients. But not eggs, eggs not common on Resh.” She said with a smile. “Breakfast is heavy meal, often stew cooked in evening and through the night for strength for the day. The middle of day meal is light and cold, Resh is very warm then; bread, fruits and…” She picked a piece of bread made a spreading motion.

“Spreads.”

“And spreads.” She confirmed. “Late day meal is also light, very quick before work continue. Evening meal is largest and longest, many dishes so family can spend time together. Resh has long days, thirty earth hours.”

I nodded and kept asking her about Tzari meals, thinking about how we could adapt them in the future. In the meantime, I opted to prepare Budaatai Khuurga, a mongolian rice dish my father would often make and taught Karee how to slice earth vegetables. Although she wasn’t familiar with the produce, she seemed to know the cooking technique well. About forty minutes later, we found ourself with a completed dish to serve.

So, are you hungry Karee? I feel like I could eat a buffalo.” I said once everyone else had taken their bowl. I filled two bowls for us and was about to join the others at the table when she spoke.

“No, wait.” She put down her bowl.

“Okay?” I blinked but put mine down too.

“Shekaree.” She said putting a hand on her chest. “You call me Shekaree now.”

Origins: Jaime 5

Into Darkness: Part Five

Three Years ago

Once I played ball, the pain stopped. All I had to do was hurt whoever the organization asked me to without asking questions. The first one had been hard, left me unable to sleep for weeks… The second one, not so much. The one after that even less so. After a while, I’d stopped counting, stopped remembering their faces. I was just a weapon, it was best not to think… it was easier not to care…

Roxanne was the only thing that brought a shred of humanity in my life. We had to survive she said, and that meant holding onto the tiniest fragment of ourselves. Every hobby, every thing we loved was important. And one of Roxanne’s was old school arcades.

But as we played a few rounds of an obscure tournament fighter, people massing around to watch Roxanne — apparently she was really good and known around the usual customers — I could hear them whispering, grimacing and pointing whenever they thought I wouldn’t notice; “look at her face!” “What’s wrong with her?”

“You win this round.” I muttered. I clenched my fists and made a run for the bathrooms, which much to my irritation couldn’t be locked. Roxanne walked in just a moment after me.

“Are you okay?”

“People, they’re staring at me. I can hear them saying shit.” I muttered, my hand instinctively rising to touch the right side of my face, feeling the scars. Although they’d healed, they hadn’t completely faded in four years.

I took out the comb I carried and redid my hair, trying to hide the scars further than they normally did. However Roxanne pushed the strands gently off my face.

“You shouldn’t have to hide your face. You’re beautiful just as you are.”

“Yeah, right.” I rolled my eyes.

“I’m serious.” She pushed my hair away from my eye and behind my ear. “You are beautiful.” She whispered. There was a quiet moment and her hand brushed mine… “I like you Jaime… I mean as more than friends…”

“You’re…”

“I’m gay. Jaime, do you like me?”

“I don’t know.” I muttered. “I never wanted to think about those things…” After what my father had done, the idea of letting someone touch me the way he had had become terrifying.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to give me an answer now.” She said, her tone a little sadder than she’d intended it to be. “How about we ditch these guys and get you a little pick me up?” She then added, forcing herself to be more upbeat.

“That sounds nice.”

“To the pancake house we go!”

“You know me too well.” I snickered.

She took my hand and I didn’t push her away. We walked out together, ignoring the stares and hushed whispers.

***

Four months later

In the end, I said yes so Roxanne and I became a thing. I had no clue if I was even into girls but I didn’t really want to think about it too much. I just needed her by my side to keep me sane, if that meant being her girlfriend then it was a fair trade. Maybe because I’d told her about my father, she hadn’t tried to push things any further, which suited me.

On a chilly summer night, I was just coming out of the shower when I heard the front door open, I peeked down the stairs and saw Roxanne standing in the entrance. She was shaking, blood splattered all over her clothes.

“Roxanne?” I rushed to her side. “Are you hurt?”

“It’s not mine… Jonas…” She mumbled, still in shock. Jonas was one of the other like us, one who could manipulate fire. “He… He…” She couldn’t finish her sentence.

“It’s alright, come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

She didn’t resist as I guided her to the bathroom, helped her undress (but keeping her underwear on) and then helped her to climb into the bath combo. She just sat at the bottom as I used the handheld showerhead and a clean cloth to wiped the blood away.

When she was clean, I helped her out and practically carried her our bedroom, setting her down in her bed while I sat next to her. She rested her head on my laps, wearing nothing but a towel and her soaked underwear, crying gently until she fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. Just like the first night after I’d been freed from the basement dungeon but that time the roles had been reversed.

As she’d slept I’d gotten the chance to ask Mr. Neville about what had happened and to my surprise he had answered. At least in the vague details, about how an operation had been botched and Jonas was dead or captured.

When Roxanne finally woke up in the morning, she’d slept almost twelve hours and yet looked like she’d only been asleep for two.

“How are you?” I asked, coming to her side.

“Okay…” She muttered.

“Let me get you some tea.”

She nodded and I went into the kitchen, preparing some green tea just as she liked it and some toasts. When I came back upstairs, Roxanne was still sitting on the bed, half naked and rocking gently, her expression blank. I set the plate and cup on the dresser next to her bed and she barely reacted.

“Do you want to talk?”

She shook her head and reluctantly dove into her breakfast in silence.

“The Nevilles are out so how about we go out and catch some bugs today?” I proposed once she was finished.

“You want to catch bugs with me?”

“I hate bugs, but you you like them and I think I should do something for you. I mean you tolerate my pancake addiction. And right now, doing something silly sounds like what you need.” To be fair, it wasn’t really bugs I hated so much as any kind of nature.

She reluctantly followed me after we grabbed her gear and headed off into a nearby clearing. Thankfully after a few minutes, her passion took over, quickly coming to teach me what I was doing wrong; namely everything, but the fact I wasn’t dousing the field in gasoline and throwing a lit match was a good start.

When she decided it was time to head home, she had a sizable bounty of catches she’d captured and killed even if she refused to use her power, citing ‘fair play’ against the bugs. Mostly it was some beetles, a few butterflies and a really shiny dragonfly.

“I am beyond tired!” She declared flopping on her bed. “But we got some great catches.”

“If you say so, they all look ugly and weird to me.”

“Oh come on, look at that Calligrapha beetle.” She said, showing me a bright green beetle with black wiggly lines.

“Still gross. I’ll stick with actually cute animals, thank you very much.”

“If you could get a pet, what would it be?” She asked, still lying down.

“I dunno, probably a dog.” I said with a shrug before lying down next to her.

“What kind?”

“Probably an american pit bull terrier. People give ‘em a bad rap but I had a friend who had one and she was super sweet.”

I spent a few minutes talking about dogs, people around me had often owned them but my father had always been strictly anti-pet, so I’d had to content myself befriending them during our visits or those times I’d meet them in the neighborhood. As I talked, Roxanne head rested on my shoulder.

“Are you alright?”

“I am.” She gently twisted my head and kissed me. “Jaime… I want you…” She whispered in my ear.

“Want me?” I hadn’t realized I’d stopped breathing at the words.

“You know?”

She didn’t have to specify further… I shivered at the thought. In four months we’d avoided it. But now the time had come. A million thoughts raced through my head, I wanted to run, but I didn’t have the strength. I didn’t want to risk losing her if I did…

“You don’t have to…”

“It’s alright.” I muttered.

She unbuttoned my jeans. I didn’t protest and stopped myself from flinching, biting back any memories. Maybe with her, it was going to be different… I removed her shirt and she pushed me onto her bed, taking my pants off.

***

We laid together in bed, Roxanne holding my naked, sweat covered body with her arms. I could feel her breath on my neck as I laid awake. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking…

“Are you alright?” She asked, whispering to my ear.

“I just thought it would hurt…” I answered. “That it would send me back to those days…” Her grip around me tightened and she pressed her head against my shoulder.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know…” I went quiet for a moment. “It was different… Maybe because you’re a girl.”

She gave me a hug. “I’m here for you Jaime.”

I nodded. “It started after my mom was taken away…” I muttered after a moment.

“Was taken away?”

“They put her in a mental hospital after she…” I gulped at the memory. “She tried to drown me…”

“Oh my god…”

“I was in the bathtub playing, she was watching over me and then it just happened…” I could feel my hands shaking. I wrapped my arms around my body. “My dad came in just in time… She kept saying it was to save me from the darkness…”

“Jesus Christ!” She screamed before wrapping her arms around me.

“It was a long time ago.” I said, but it wasn’t right. Seven years later and I still couldn’t swim or take a bath, even showers risked my mind wandering back… “I’m fine.”

There was a moment of silence.

“There’s something I need to say… I lied to you.” Roxanne said breaking it.

“About?”

“My parents dying.” She said and I frowned. “Well, not entirely. My dad died in that accident, but my mom survived.”

“How did you get here then?”

“After my dad died, my mom decided to start over with a clean slate, no baggage…” She muttered. “She dumped me in the foster care system and just left. She never saw me again. I tracked her down a few months ago. She’s living in Atlantic city with a new husband and two new kids, changed her name even.”

“Did you talk to her?”

“No, I snuck in with my power. There wasn’t anything of me, no pictures, no nothing… She took care of me for seven years and then just erased me from her life.”

I hugged her. As terrible as my parents had been, as much as they had hurt me they had cared for me, they’d wanted me. Roxanne had just been thrown away like garbage.

“Want me to wreck her shit?”

She let out a sad snicker. “That sounds really tempting… But we shouldn’t get in trouble, she’s not worth it.”

She wrapped her arms around my belly and dragged my closer, resting our bodies against one another.

“I love you.” She muttered.

I couldn’t find it in me to answer her…

Marked for Death: Part VII

Marked for Death

Part VII: Coming Out

Just a little before dinner, everyone came back from classes, Emma included. She came and found me right in the sunroom where she’d left me in the morning.

“Haven’t moved an inch, have you?”

“Why would I? It’s so comfy.”

“Well, lucky for you, I wrote down notes for all those classes you’ve missed.” She said holding up a note pad.

“Thank you.” She gave it to me and I kissed her cheek. “So, how was your day of masquerading as a Ravenhold student?”

“Cool I guess. The teachers didn’t mind my presence, I said I’d take notes. Although your gym teacher made me run the training regiment.”

“Not too hard?”

“I’ve hard worse.” She said with a smirk.

“Tyler, possibly Amber and I are going to see a movie tomorrow. Are you in?”

“Sure, I guess.” She said sitting down next to me. “Are you sure you didn’t want me by your side?”

“It’s alright, I was just reading all day.”

“Well your friends are pretty interesting. Especially the little Itharii.” She said with a smirk. “Kept calling me your clutchmate and being super excited to talk to me, even invited me to play boardgames with them.”

“That’s Ahti for you.”

I got up and Emma helped me get all my things back to my room before we joined Ahti’s boardgaming run along with Rowan. The two of them had formed an odd pair. In the last few weeks, they’d gotten a lot closer, even having become sleeping buddy. Which suited me, as much as I liked Ahti, sleeping with someone other than my girlfriend felt wrong…

We were halfway into a game when everyone’s ID badges let out a beep and recalled us to the dorm where I already was. I joined the others assembling in the common room and we all looked at each other, not knowing what was up.

A few minutes later Mr. Martin came in for a surprise inspection, doing a quick tour of the rooms, noting only a handful of infractions of the housing rules, including Imugi whom I wasn’t technically allowed to have.  He quickly told me how to register Imugi. Since she was living in an aquarium, it was just a matter of getting an ‘all-clear’ from a vet that she wasn’t dangerous and confirming it with administration.

“Now to the other reason I came here.”

He walked over to the door and opened it, letting a flood of people walk into the houses. By the time my brain had processed what was happening, my parents were by my side.

“Mom? Dad?” I mumbled, my brain still processing everything.

“It’s us darling.” My mom said coming closer and hugging me.

“I’ve missed you so much.” I returned the hug tightly.

“We’ve missed you too.” My dad said, doubling the hug on me.

“You left in such a hurry, we never had time to properly talk about what happened and then your doctor called us, said you were having heart surgery…”

“It’s been kind of crazy, running away, getting to stay here, adjusting to my new powers, then the surgery. I haven’t really had the spoons to keep in touch.”

“That’s alright.” Mom answered.

They let me go and I guided them to the upstairs living room which had yet to be claimed by one of the visiting families.

“How have you been?”

“I’ve been dealing with everything alright…” I sighed. “It’s been stressful, wondering every moment how you are all doing.”

“What happened back home?”

“Kind of a long story… I hope you don’t mind but I’ve got to go to the bathroom first.” I lied.

“Of course.”

I practically ran to the bathroom, my thoughts simultaneously at a standstill and going a hundred miles an hour. What was I supposed to even say? It wasn’t like I could tell anything resembling the truth without them freaking out…

I splashed my face with cold water, hoping it’d help clear my thoughts but it didn’t. Only a moment later the door opened and via the mirror I saw Amber come in. I turned around and she came forward, gently slipping her hands over my hip, she dropped a quick kiss on my lips before pressing her forehead against mine.

“Are you okay?” She whispered.

“I don’t know…” I sighed. “As much as I’m glad to see my parents, I don’t feel like I can tell them anything…”

“About me?”

“Partly, I don’t know what they’d think… But also about the whole magic thing, I’m schizophrenic, there’s no way they’ll believe me…”

“Are you? Not to sound weird, but couldn’t your schizophrenia just be another magical thingy?”

“I kind of doubt it.” I said with a chuckle. “Unless you know the magical or spiritual significance of hearing the voice of a nagging middle age woman annoying me about anything, hearing my sister remind me of stuff or that one voice that just spouts random words.” When it came to hallucinating, those three voices were around ninety percent of it, with my meds I was pretty darned stable. 

“Okay, touché.” She said with a smirk.

“But what about you?”

“What about me?”

“I noticed nobody’s there for you.”

She bit her lip. “It’s alright. I didn’t really expect my parents to come. They’re probably busy with something more important than me… Just like usual, all because I wasn’t born perfect like June…”

“Nobody’s born perfect, Amber.”

She let out a dry laugh at my comment.

“You don’t understand.” She sighed in frustration.

“What is it then?”

“I wasn’t born like most kids.” She said, pausing briefly. “And I don’t mean that in the ‘Special way’ I mean I wasn’t given birth to… June and I were made in a lab, our parents wanted the perfect children; stronger, healthier, smarter than normal. They removed all the bad bits of DNA and added what they wanted, including the VNG genes so we’d be mutant. Out of a dozen embryos, only June and I survived the treatments. They got two daughters worth over three million dollars a head. They paid for perfection and all they got was me…”

I couldn’t find the words to answer. I knew these designer babies technically existed for the filthy rich, but knowing Amber had been the result of one of those programs shocked me… And all it had brought her was pain…

“June was everything they wanted… Successful at everything she tried; academically, socially and physically. She was one of the top students here, she fought in the Tzari war and survived. And then she died like an idiot for me…” She clenched her fists and jaw. “She pushed me away from the car, letting it and the drunken asshole hit her instead… I would’ve lived, I’m tougher than she was…” Tears poured down her face at full volume, her words interrupted by the periodical sob.

I wrapped my arms around her, squeezing as tightly as I could.

“It’s my fault she’s dead…”

“Don’t say that, it’s not true.”

“Well they sure as hell see it that way!” She shouted back before driving her nails into her skin, right where the scars ran down her wrists. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have shouted.”

“It’s fine, I know you’re not angry at me. You have every right to be upset at how your parents treated you.”

She just leaned into me, burying her face in my shirt for a moment. I held her, the two of us quietly embracing until she calmed down.

“You go first, I’ll leave in a minute, that way nobody will notice.”

“You know what? No.”

“No?”

“I don’t want to push you away and hide you. I’m going to tell my parents about you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hell no… But I have to. I can’t keep hiding from everything and I don’t want to spend the next few hours or days away from you when I need you by my side.”

We shared one long passionate deep kiss, the type we only shared during those rare moments when we were away from everyone’s sight.

“I’m right behind you, just give me a sign and I’ll come over?”

“That works.” I nodded.

I took a minute to pump myself before going out the bathroom and climbing the stairs back up. Amber came up with me but stayed in the stairwell, waiting for me to call her over.

“Sorry I’m back.” I said sitting down.

“So, what happened?” Emma asked, undermining my confidence and plan to tell them about Amber…

“It’s complicated…” I sighed. “I got caught in a robbery during lunch, a hero showed up and one of the Yakuza took me hostage, which caused my powers to manifest. I got away but the Yakuza tracked me down, they took what happened very personally to say the least…”

It wasn’t the whole truth. The Shigeo-kai wouldn’t have been too bothered if I’d just been a mutant, but they were very serious about maintaining their grasp on the magical community of San Francisco… On top of that, I had the guts to have been born from a Korean family. They still had very imperialistic attitude and weren’t too kind of non-Japanese Asian people… especially Koreans.

“So I’m here at least until things have had the time to cool down.” Another big fat lie. With the stunt Síthmaith had pulled the chances they’d forget was about zero. If anything they were probably even more determined to get me… “I’m still not sure if I really want to be a hero.” That one was true, even after nearly a month I hadn’t really had the time or energy to ponder the question.

“Whatever you choose, we’re right behind you.” My dad said.

There was a moment of silence and I refocused myself.

I took a deep breath. “Mom, dad… There’s something else I want to talk about… Or rather someone I’d like you to meet…” I looked at Amber and she walked toward us.

“This…” I paused, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Is my girlfriend, Amber.”

“Your girlfriend?” My dad echoed, it wasn’t really a question.

It took a second for the words to come out of my throat. “I’m gay.”

My father got up, all quiet, and stepped toward me. I could feel my power stirring in my guts, awakened by the anxiety…

And then he wrapped his arms around me.

“I’m so proud of you.” He whispered, squeezing me even stronger.

“You are?”

“I takes courage to live your life the way you are.”

“And I still love you.” My mom said, kissing my forehead. “Emma?”

“Way ahead of you both on the news.” She said with a grin. “About time you finally told them.” She gave me a quick hug. “Welcome to the family Amber.” She then added, hugging Amber who froze.

“Thanks…” She said with a melancholic smile.

We talked about everything and nothing for a few minutes, my parents drilling Amber on a thousand different subjects until the call for dinner was rung. All the while Amber looked a little overwhelmed…

“Are you okay?” I whispered, taking her apart from the group.

“Just a little overwhelmed… I’m not used to seeing a family actually being a family.”

I gave her a hug.

“Well, you’ve heard them. You’re always welcome at our home, I know it’s a little far and we’re kind of stuck here, but I guess it’s the thought that count. And hey, maybe one day we’ll actually be free from all the drama and bullcrap.”

“I’ll have something to look forward to for once.”

“That’s the right attitude.”

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