Into the Unknown: Part X

Into the Unknown

Part X: Having Faith

I woke up early and snuck out of bed, careful not to wake Charlie up. Even though I had slept a half-decent amount of hours, I felt like absolute garbage. I grabbed some clothes and took a shower. Since it was Sunday, the Lord’s day, I made sure to dress proper; a long dress, only the most conservative makeup and braiding my hair simply.

When I went downstairs, my mom was already up, a given since she never slept, sitting in the living room portion of the house with a giant mug of coffee. When she saw me she waved at me before getting up.

“Let me make you some noms.” She said going behind the counter. “What are you in the mood for?”

I just shrugged. “Whatever’s fine.” I sat down at the table not far from the kitchen area.

“Caroline, is everything alright?”

“Charlie and I had an argument last night…” I sighed. “Our first.”

She made a ‘tsk’ nose with her mouth, went toward me and drew me closer, kissing the top of my head.

“I’m sure it’ll all sort itself out soon. Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know… Maybe…”

She pushed me up and toward the stove. I leaned against the kitchen counter and let her work. It only took a moment to realize she was making Campbell-family style pancakes.

“It’s just that she has this best friend she never talked to me about who I just met yesterday and Charlie says that there’s never been anything between them but Jenna and her were flirting last night and I don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to think and I’m also worried that maybe I’m thinking way too much about this and should just trust Charlie but at the same time my brain’s all like super scared and —”

“Breathe peanut.” My mom said, putting a hand on my shoulder.

“I’m probably just being silly and unfair to Charlie?”

“Maybe, but nothing is going to come from ruminating about it.” She put up the first batch of pancakes on the counter and shoved a fork in my hand. “Eat, mama’s orders.” I didn’t protest. “About Charlie, I think you need to take a moment to let the heat of the argument cool down a little.”

I nodded and kept eating. A few minutes later Charlie came down.

“Pancakes?” My mom asked.

“Yeah.”

Charlie came to the counter and sat down at a stool on the opposite side of it that I was.

“Hey.” She said quietly.

“Hey.”

“Last night I asked Marian to hang out with me today…” Charlie said, clearly uncomfortable. “Is that alright?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I’ll be in church most of the morning anyway.”

That was the extent of our conversation that morning as I focused on helping my mom make breakfast for the whole house before flopping on the couch and focusing my attention on Grump. When it came time to go to church, all us Campbells packed into the car. None of Charlie’s family were believers though. Charlie would usually accompany me just to spend time with me but not that day.

“Can you pass by Ravenhold?” I asked.

“Sure, just be quick? I don’t want to be late.”

She drove to Ravenhold and I went into the school grounds, first going back to our house. I knocked on Sage and Allen’s room but got no answers. So Instead I left and went for the chapel of Ravenhold, located at the back of the administration building. Just as I’d guessed, Allen was there, sitting quietly on a pew. Despite being alone, he’d dressed up all nice and proper. The chapel wasn’t used much by christians as there were a variety of local churches so we had the room almost to ourselves. I walked up to him and sat down on the seat beside him.

“I knew I’d find you here.” I whispered. He didn’t answer, staying quiet. “Where are your parents?”

“They went back home. They said they had urgent business there.” His tone clearly wasn’t convinced.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why did you lie to my father about us going to church?”

“Because your parents needed reassurance that you haven’t gone astray or whatever they think is happening.  Their world’s just been shaken and I can see they’re struggling to accept it. And beside, I intend to retroactively make it the truth.” I said with a smile. “Come with me to church.”

“After everything I’ve done, I really don’t think I can…”

“And I can?” I said, repressing a chuckle. “I’m dating a girl, I’m trans, I’m a mutant.”

“But you’re a good person… I’ve sinned so much these last few days…”

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9” I quoted

“You know your bible.”

“Of course I do. God also said to us; Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.

He smirked. I got up and offered him a hand.

“Come on, time to repent for our mistakes.” I said.

He took my hand and got up from the pew.

“So, Charlie’s not coming?” Allen asked, looking around. “You two are usually inseparable.”

“No, she’s with her friend Marian today…”

“Caroline?” His voice was clearly worried. “Are you alright?”

“We argued last night…”

“What about?”

“Her friend.”

“Oh.” He muttered. “Can I give you a hug?”

“Of course.”

He wrapped his arms around me and I returned the hug gently. We stayed close for a few seconds before he let go.

“Thank you.” I said.

“You’re welcome. And thank you for not giving up on me like everyone else did…”

“It’s the Christian thing to do.” I said with a smile.

“Guess we’ve had different experiences on that front.”

“Faith doesn’t have to be all fire and brimstone, Allen. God teaches us to be kind, to forgive each other for our mistakes and to love one another. In my church, that’s the message we choose to focus on.”

I kept holding his hand as we made our way to the gate. We hopped into my mom’s car and I introduced Allen to my little family who welcomed him eagerly.

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Into the Unknown: Part IX

Into the Unknown

Part IX: Arguments

Rather than go back to the Ravenhold dorm Charlie, Jenna and I got ourselves a cab to Charlie’s house to go spend the evening with our families. After getting the others onto a bus to Ravenhold of course.

We came into the house and saw Ian and Colleen at the bar, chatting lowly. With the sound of the door opening they turned around.

“Hey peanut!” My mom said, getting up and coming to me. She hugged me strongly, lifting me off the ground even.

“Hey mom.”

“What’s got you all dressed up?”

“Charlie and I went dancing at a club.”

“Ooh like a real date then.” She nudged. “They grow up so fast, am I right?” She then asked Ian.

“They do.” He said with a smile before ruffling Charlie’s hair.

“What are you two doing still up?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t sleep.” My mom answered. “And Ian was nice enough to give me some late company. Although we might not stay up too long.” There was a suggestive tone to her voice.

I felt a little uncomfortable hearing that.

“I’m going to shower.” I mumbled before running upstairs before anyone could say anything and grabbing some of the clothes I’d left at Charlie’s last time I’d been there.

I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom and just sat in the shower, letting the water hit me. A few hours before I’d been happy, ecstatic even but now my brain was just buzzing with all the wrongest thoughts… I only came out when the water began turning cold. I dried myself the traditional way, as if buying time before having to come out. When I couldn’t delay it any longer I slipped on a pajama and slipped out of the room.

I’d barely taken a few steps in the corridor that the stairs groaned and my mom came upstairs.

“I think you and I need to have a private talk about Ian and I.” She said severely.

She nodded at Charlie’s room and I didn’t protest. We sat down on Charlie’s bed and there was a moment of uncomfortable silence between us. It only lasted a minute but felt infinitely longer.

“Caroline…” She began. “Are you opposed to me having a romantic partner?”

“What?” I answered, slightly alarmed. “No way. I’ve supported you before like with Bianca or before that Steven.”

“Yes, you’ve been mostly supportive, but there were times you weren’t… and I couldn’t help but notice that they all just happened to be when there was a chance it might have been more than just a one time thing…”

I didn’t answer.

“When I began seeing your art teacher, Mr. Bryant you suddenly started disliking him even though he was your favorite in school. You’d avoid speaking to him and be moody. I know that was over two years ago but I see you’re doing the same thing with Ian now…” She sighed and there was a pause. “Caroline, are you afraid that if I have a partner you’ll lose me?”

I couldn’t answer her, instead I just felt tight in my chest and glued my chin to my knees, looking down. My mom was one of the few people who supported me, I’d never had any friends to do that…

“Oh peanut…” She put her arms around me and dragged me into a very tight back hug. “Nobody’s ever going to replace you, you’ll always be my number one priority.” She dropped a kiss on my cheek and I felt tears come out.

“You must think I’m awful and selfish.”

“You’re still a kid, Caroline. And I know how vulnerable you feel, you try to be all strong and courageous but in the end you’re still a kid who needs support and I know how your coming out isolated you.”

She just held me for a moment until I felt a little better.

“Is you and Ian real?” I asked. I had to be supportive, just like she was of me.

“I like Ian. He’s nice, he’s funny and he is pretty cute.” My mom said before pausing. There was an awkward silence between us. “But…” She sighed. “I don’t think this is going to go far. We both have our lives and we’re hours apart. He has Ravenhold, I have the farm and my parents. And I know that neither of us is ready to give it all up.”

I wrapped my arms around her massive body, not even getting them halfway around her frame.

“I want you to be happy.” I muttered.

“I know that. And I want you to be happy to, I’d never settle with someone if it hurt you.”

“Is that what happened with Mr. Bryant?” I asked but she didn’t answer, looking away. “You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your happiness for me… I promise I’ll be supportive.”

She put a hand on my head and kissed my cheek.

“I love you peanut.”

“I love you too mom.”

She hugged me and we stayed one against the other for a moment.

“Well, I better leave you so you and Charlie can catch some sleep… Just remember; no hickeys.”

“Mom!”

She burst our laughing and came out the door. She left the room and Charlie came up and into the room, Grump the big fluffy dog right on her heels.

“Hey, everything okay?” She asked. She’d changed into pajama bottoms and a worn out band shirt.

“Yeah, just some mother-daughter talk.”

She nodded and came to the bed, sitting down.

“Charlie?”

“Yeah?” She turned around.

“Why did you never tell me about Marian?” I asked, looking down.

“I just didn’t think about it.”

“You didn’t think it’d be important to tell me about your best friend?”

“We hadn’t talked in four months.”

“Why?”

“Because my stupid mental health got in the way, okay?” She said defensively. “What’s with the interrogation?”

“It feels like you kept her secret for me.”

“Are you jealous?” She asked, clearly flabbergasted.

“No!” I answered. “Should I be, was there something between you?” I asked, I knew I shouldn’t have asked but in the stress of the moment it had just come out.

“No, she was my best friend that’s it. Marian’s straight, she’s had like three boyfriends before.”

I looked away.

“What about Jenna?” Charlie asked, “I didn’t even know she existed before yesterday.”

“What about my sister?”

“It’s kind of hypocritical to be angry that I ‘hid’ someone from you when you did the same.”

“So, what you’re angry I didn’t mention her?”

“No!” She sighed. “Look, I’m just saying that it’s not fair to hold me to a different standard. Plus you never once asked about my friends, if you had I totally would’ve told you I wasn’t seeing any of them.”

“I think I’ll go sleep downstairs in the living room.” I muttered. I tried to take a step forward but Charlie barred the way.

“Caroline…” She sighed. “Don’t be silly, there’s plenty of space for two people. And if anyone has to go it’s going to be me.”

“Charlie, it’s your house.”

“My house my rules.” She put her hands on her hips. “Let’s just forget this stupid argument? Please…”

I didn’t argue with her, taking my side of the bed. Thankfully Grump settled down between the two of us, providing a furry barrier. I wrapped my arms around him and he gave me a few doggy kisses before laying down for an extended nap. Somehow despite a heavy heart, I managed to fall asleep…

Into the Unknown: Part VIII

Into the Unknown

Part VIII: Heat of the Moment

Charlie stopped the bus in the middle of a neighborhood and had us get off before leading us through the streets. Havenport wasn’t any different from any suburban town; white picket fences, single family homes and impeccably trimmed lawns dominated to island town.

When we reached the edge of the small industrial row we came face with a warehouse unlike the others, it had a neon sign declaring it as the Annex. It seemed pretty busy as there was a small line outside where two men guarded the door, one of whom informed us of the rules of the house before telling us about the live parahuman band. Parahuman band were the best, mixing powers into their performance. Snobs would say it took away from the genuine musical experience but I disagreed.

After paying our entry with our Ravenhold cards, getting our hands stamped and dropping our coats off at the locker we came into the club proper. A large dance floor took the center of the place, a bar was on the right and the left hand side from the entrance was littered with tables. Loud upbeat electro pop music came out of the speakers. With all the noise, I removed my hearing aids.

“Come on!” I took Charlie’s hand and dragged her to the dance floor.

She didn’t resist and we joined the mass of dancing teens. Clearly the band had yet to arrive although instruments were set on a stage.  Of all her many talents Charlie being able to dance still surprised me. She so didn’t seem the type to do it. Charlie said something but with the music and lack of aids I didn’t catch a thing.

“I can’t hear a thing!” I shouted above the music before giggling.

We kept dancing until our attention was drawn to the stage where the singer introduced himself and his band. Thankfully it was loud enough for me to understand without my hearing aids.

When he began singing I felt the singer’s voice take a hold of me instantly. His words carried an electrifying rush that spread through my whole body. And I wasn’t the only one, the whole crowd seemed energized by the music, a silent current passing between us.

Charlie and I became one, we didn’t think, losing ourselves in the moment, the music guiding us and chasing away everything else. We moved as one, bodies pressed together, she didn’t even need to signal, I just knew how to follow her movement and she knew mine. As we danced, we kissed, we touched each others, my hands and hers wandering, feeling the curves of her hips, the way her stomach went, the shape of her breasts. We were drunk on each other’s presence, filled with love and something more deep and visceral.

The soon ended and its grasp slowly faded, but the way we’d just felt didn’t. That had been us. I couldn’t breathe, my skin burned and I was keenly aware of a certain tightness… But I wasn’t the only one, Charlie’s mouth hung open as she caught her breath, her eyes fixed with mine and her skin burning to the touch.

I grinned.

I took her hand and guided her away from the dance floor, needing a moment to cool down. We sat down at the bar together and Charlie ordered something. I looked at the menu before asking for for a ‘Sparkling Indigo’, which was a sparkly lavender lemonade. The bartender took our orders and prepared them.

My hand found Charlie’s again. “That was wild.” I muttered, very well aware of how I aroused I still was. I put my hearing aids back in and leaned closer to her.

“—was. We — go — far —” She asked, loudly and clearly enough that with a bit of lip reading I understood the gist of it I believed.

“No, no. It was nice… Even if I’m still trying to wrap my head around my orientation.”

“ — progress —”

“Hard to with such a small sample size of experience. I could be demiromantic, maybe grayromantic or heck maybe I’m just Charlieromantic. Still very confident that I’m ace though.”

“And — fine — Does— love — less — allosex— would.” I took a second to put it together but from her smile I knew she’d said something nice and supportive.

I put my hand on her cheek and drew her closer into a kiss. Our lips met a few times before the bartender politely put our drinks in front of us. I blushed at the interruption but thanked him, he hadn’t seemed to mind two girls kissing. Charlie paid for our drinks and we enjoyed them for a moment.

A few seats further Jenna came for a drink only for Mace to follow her, trying to chat it up. By his body language I could tell he was trying to flirt but disappointingly for him, Jenna wasn’t into boys. She politely entertained him for a moment before going for the dance floor alone.

“Ready—” Charlie began before saying a few words I didn’t catch. But I caught the second to last; ‘dance.’

“Ready as ever.” I grinned.

We finished our drink and went back to the dance floor. The song that started next was quite as wild and energetic as the first one we had danced to but the power still took hold of us.

By the time we got off the dance floor, our feet were tired and hurt but we were both grinning. Charlie proposed we get our and we gathered our friends, save for Jaeger who had already left with Harley.

“Who’s hungry?” Charlie asked once we were out of the club.

After so much dancing, we all were, so she guided us to a nearby dinner a few streets away. It was a real retro place called Dean’s Diner and it was jam packed. We had to wait for two tables so we could sit down. As she usually did, Charlie paid for everyone’s orders. It wasn’t like she couldn’t afford it.

I was gorging myself on a country fried steak when a girl I’d never met came toward us. She was a rather tall latina teenager dressed in a boyish fashion; hoodie, baseball cap and ripped jeans. She gave Charlie a look a snarl appearing on her face.

“So that’s why you haven’t called.” She spat out. “Guess you found better friends…”

Before any of us could even react she turned around and left. I turned to Charlie who got up and left, running after her without so much as a word of explanation. We all sat there wondering what the heck had just happened, but none of us dared get involved.

A few minutes later the two of them came back into the dinner, their eyes all red and puffed up. Charlie’s cheek was a little red too.

“Guys, this is my best friend Marian.” Charlie said.

“Hey.” Marian said, sheepishly waving. In a few minutes she’d done a one-eighty in term of attitude.

Charlie sat back down next to me and Marian next to her on the aisles side.

“I’m Caroline.” I introduced myself, reaching across Charlie to offer my hand.

She shook it lightly. “Are you Charlie’s girlfriend?”

“That’s me.” I said, making myself smile.

In a month I hadn’t heard a word about Marian and now Charlie was introducing her as her best friend? It was a little hard to just roll with it.

“Are you all Ravenhold students?”

“Pretty obvious, eh?” I snickered.

“I’m not.” Jenna reminded us. “Just visiting my sister.”

“Well there’s only one normal school on the island and Charlie’s not attending it. Wasn’t hard to figure out where she was, what with her dad.” Marian said with a shrug. I was a little surprised at her words, she was close enough to know about Ian…

Charlie got Marian some food and the two of them chatted it up like the last few minutes hadn’t happened. I wanted to ask Charlie a thousand questions about her mysterious friend but with everyone around I didn’t want to risk a scene.

“Ugh, I’ve got to go.” Marian declared after a while. “Stupid ten pm curfew on weekends.”

“I see your folks aren’t any more lenient.” Charlie said.

“You’d think the superhero dad would be the overprotective one, but apparently paper mill managers are worst than mama bears.”

Charlie escorted her outside and Jenna came over, sitting down next to me.

“You didn’t know her?” She whispered.

“Never heard of her.”

“Damn. So… about Charlie’s friend…” She trailed off.

“Yeah?” I answered in a hushed tone.

“We were totally dancing together just a few minutes ago. And it wasn’t just friendly dancing if you catch my drift.”

“Oh.”

“You think that means something?”

“I have no idea.” I sighed…

There were so many questions I’d have to ask once we were alone…

Into the Unknown: Part VII

Into the Unknown

Part VII: Problem Girls

Jaeger got his payback for the habanero cookies that afternoon. Ian had invited all the parents to the Harborside for dinner, his treat so they could all make better acquaintance so we were left parents free for the evening, although Jenna opted to stay with me so we could hang out.

“Batboy!” Charlie screamed as I was making some cupcakes with Jenna who just gave me a look.

“Great, what is it again?” I muttered to myself with a sigh. “They don’t get along.” I clued Jenna.

Charlie came out of our room and asked Sage about Jaeger and then went looking around for something in the locker then upstairs before coming back down. I caught her as she went back toward our room.

“Are you alright?”

“If I can punch Jaeger, I’ll be.” She grumbled.

“What did he do?”

Charlie didn’t answer so I took a look into my room. I couldn’t resist the spout of laughter that came when I saw the college added above Charlie’s bed; sexy naked Itharii pinups. Charlie was just frozen and pouting.

“Come on, Charlie, it’s just a prank.” I said. I tried to give her a hug but she just flinched. “I’ll help you get it down.” I then added.

With only a thought I summoned the water from the hot tub to our room and stepped on the water, feeling it solid under my feet. I levitated it and myself to the ceiling’s reach and removed Jaeger’s addition from it before crunching it all into a ball.

“There. Now we just gotta chuck it in the bin. Unless you want to keep some?” I teased her but she didn’t bite so I slammed the pile in the trash.

“Aww, I made my girlfriend grumpy.” I pouted. I gave her a hug, this time she didn’t resist and then kissed her cheek. “Better fix that.”

She didn’t resist when I gently pushed her against the wall and brought my lips to her, delivering the first of many slow kisses. When we parted ways, she wasn’t as grumpy as earlier, just very red from the attention and a little out of breath.

“So, you’re not going to ask about that?” She asked after a moment, nodding at the bin where I’d put the mess of posters.

“Charlie, do I look like the type to judge?”

“No…”

I kissed her cheek.

“Come on, Jenna and I are making cupcakes, including carrot, your favorite.”

“Suddenly I feel much better.”

“Cakes make everything better.”

I guided her to the kitchen where we hung out with Jenna, talking about everything and nothing before we decided to crash on the couch and watch a movie. As we did Charlie’s phone buzzed.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Allison, they want direction to the Annex.”

“The Annex?”

“It’s a dance club for teens.”

“Ooh that sounds great. Can we tag along?” I asked.

“It’s a free country.”

“Let’s see who else want to come.” I proposed, taking my own phone out and sending texts to everyone in the class and quickly getting a few answers.

“We’re leaving in about forty-fifty minutes then.” She said and I relayed that info to everyone else.

“Better get dressed then.”

We got up and went into our room to change. As I looked through my clothes my eyes settled on the lacy white dress Charlie had bought me. To it I added black tights and white pumps. Charlie and I didn’t bother hiding as we changed, although neither of us dared to peek at the other. With my clothes on I quickly worked my hair into a braided updo.

“You look gorgeous.” Charlie said in a low tone as if smitten. She came forward and kissed me.

“You look great too, in your own butch kind way.” I whispered to her ear. She’d gone for red flannel, a white tank top, tight jeans, combat boots and a black beanie covering most of her hair. “Although I do admit one day I’d love to see you in a dress.” As I spoke, my finger traced the edge of her exposed collarbone.

She stuck her tongue out. “Not everyone can be as femme as you.”

“Says the girl who owns three times the number of shoes I do.” I answered. Charlie had a giant wardrobe full of shoes at her house, she was like the stereotype of shoe-collecting girl.

“It doesn’t count if they’re sneakers and boots. So I get to keep my tomboy creds.” She declared before going toward the door.

We didn’t make it more than three feet in the common room before Jaeger walked in and Charlie exploded, still salty about earlier.

“You!”

“Yes, shortie?” Jaeger answered, one-hundred percent not intent on letting their feud go.

“That was a cheap shot.” She answered.

“It worked.” Jaeger answered, not even stopping to argue as he went upstairs. “If you still need help getting them down, the step-ladder is in Sanjay’s lab.”

“Fine. Gloves are off, you will pay.” Charlie declared.

Jaeger just laughed and I had to sigh. I had the deep unsettling feeling I was going to have to mop up their drama soon.

“He’s such a jerk… I made a good prank, it was harmless and not a low blow. I could’ve gone after the cheap shot too, but I’m too mature.” Said, coming back to my side.

“I am not helping you fight back. In this conflict, I’m Switzerland.” I warned her.

“And I’m leaving tomorrow evening.” Jenna butted in. “He won’t be able to get back to me. So count me in.”

“Have I mentioned you’re my new best friend?” Charlie said, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “Let’s go scheme.”

Way to go Jenna. I internally groaned. So much for sisters sticking together.

I decided to leave it alone for then and just snatched a cupcake, eating it in a slightly broody manner.

“Are you alright?” Mace asked, taking one too.

“I just know I’m going to get caught in the crossfire.” I sighed.

“If you need help kicking butts, I’d be willing to give it a shot.”

“I might have to just do that, thanks.”

The others of the class who had agreed to come with us quickly came back. Much to my surprise, I learned that Yougen and Yikaru had become an Item and so had Amber and Annabelle if the way they looked at each others or held hand was to be believed. To my surprise a teen from another class joined us, having been invited by Jaeger. They presented themselves as Harley. They were a really feminine non-binary person by the looks of it.

“Bus is leaving in eleven minutes.” Charlie soon declared, emerging from our room with Jenna. “Let’s go!”

And so we followed her lead to the exit gate and then boarded a bus into town.

Marked for Death: Part VIII

Marked for Death

Part VIII: Talking Outside

Amber seemed to have gotten used to the attention as after a while she was chatting up with Emma about fencing techniques, one of the dozens of sports Emma had tried and done well at. The only thing I had she couldn’t do was draw.

As we talked, shouting began in Sage and Allen’s room. The two of them had gone to change a minute ago and were now arguing about Sage’s choices of clothing. Despite being a non-binary guy Sage was very feminine, often wearing skirts, tights and makeup, while Allen was less than accommodating.

I wasn’t quite sure what exactly happened, as we couldn’t see inside their room. All I knew what that that Jaeger got involved, then stuff fell on the ground, Jaeger ran away and Caroline went in. On top of that, Sage and Allen’s parents came up to see what was going on and began arguing.

“Maybe we should move outside?” I proposed and my family agreed.

We got our things and moved down the stairs. I took a look at Amber and she was stiff as a board.

“Are you okay?” I whispered, taking her apart for a second.

“Yeah, I just need some air.” She answered.

“Let me come with you.”

“No, stay here. I’m just going to take a smoke and I know how much you hate it. Plus, your family’s here to see you so enjoy that.” She said with a smile.

“You sure you’re alright?”

She nodded and I gave her a tight hug. I let her go after a minute and she went out of the house. I joined my parents and Emma in the garden, sitting by the pool on the lounging chairs. It was a bit of a chilly evening, but not quite cold enough you absolutely needed a coat.

“Your girlfriend seems nice.” My dad said when I sat down.

“She is, at least with me.” I chuckled nervously. “She can be a bit of a handful, doesn’t get along all that well with some of the others. So, what’s up on your end?”

“Well, we added two new types of bread to the menu; a seven sprouted grains loaf and a tomato basil roll. They’ve been selling like hotcakes.” My dad said. “We also retired the spiced rye to on-order only, it wasn’t selling well enough to justify baking every day.”

I had to smile at my father’s enthusiasm talking about bread. He and my Mom were devoted artisan bakers, they had met working together and opened their own bakery a little after my oldest sibling had been born. Although the family-ran bakery was their dream and we had all pitched in at one time or another, they didn’t force us to take up the family business.

“So, how did you and Amber get together?”

“Honestly, it’s not much of a story there. Thank god she made the first move, I never would’ve worked the courage to say or do anything on my own. We hung out one morning, she kissed me spontaneously and we just sort of rolled with it…” I said, my speech slowly getting less and less confident and more muttered.

“Regardless, i’m glad you found someone you like.”My dad asked. “Annabelle, are you alright?”

“I don’t know, guess I was expecting more of a lecture or lots of questioning since I kind of rushed into things with Amber.”

“Annabelle, you’re almost an adult, we trust you to make the right choices by yourself, but if you ever need advice we’re there for you.” My mom said, kissing my temple.

“Thank you.” I muttered.

“How long has Emma known about it?” My dad asked.

“About Amber or about being gay?”

“Either?” He answered with a chuckle.

“About Amber when she came to see me in the hospital. About being gay a few years, I told her after getting my first girlfriend.”

“Your first girlfriend?”

“Right…” I muttered. I’d never told them about Natalie. So I explained everything to them, how we’d met, how we’d fallen in love in the hospital, how her parents had reacted when I had told them we were in love. “— so that’s kind of it… My paranoia got in the way of telling you I was terrified of how you’d react.”

My parents both got up and gave me a tight squeeze. “Annabelle, you know we love you, we’d never be angry at you.” My mom said, kissing my forehead.

“Unless you give chocolate to the dogs again.” My dad joked.

“I was three years old, I didn’t know it was bad!”

As we talked, Ahti’s family and Allison’s little brother had come into the backyard and began swimming. Soon enough a bunch of people were hanging around the yard, Allison even using their powers to warm up the pool.

“Hey.” Amber said, coming through the house’s backdoor. “I’m back. As you can see…”

“Feeling better?” I asked, I patting the seat next to me. She sat down there and I leaned against her gently.

“Yeah, although I ran out of smokes…” She grumbled. “And I have no idea where to get them here.”

“Here.” My mom said, looking around her bag and taking out a still unopened pack of cigarette and giving it to Amber.

“Oh… Thanks…”

“I know how cranky I get without my nicotine fix and I don’t want to inflict a cranky girlfriend on my little girl.” She said with a smile. “But if you want my advice; try to quit while you’re still young.”

Amber nodded. “Eh, thanks again.”

We talked about silly things, my parents completely unashamed to give Amber all the embarrassing anecdotes they could remember until dinner time was called.

Number: Part II

Number

Part II: Infection

Through dinner that night, there was a kind of silent energy between Yougen and I, a mix of excitement and anxiety. A fight had broken out upstairs and it had sort of threw us off our moment, we hadn’t had the time to talk about what had happened.

I went to bed with a thousand thoughts burning through my mind that I wanted to desperately tell Yougen but with everyone around, having a moment of privacy could be hard…

On the next morning not long after breakfast all the returning parents came back and then left with their kids, going to a teacher-parent meeting in the administration building, I opted to go out and take a run through the school grounds as I would often to in the mornings before class.

When I came back, I jumped in the shower to wash out. Thanks to my black blood strain, I didn’t really sweat but grime still got on me. As I came out of the bathroom I saw Yougen was busy at the stove, a few things going on at the same time. I looked around and nobody else was in the house.

“You know the cafeteria’s open today thanks to the parents, right?”

“I know, but I thought I’d try my hands at making something.” She said with a smile. “I did a little when I was down in New York, but the people housing me were nowhere near as well equipped or stocked as here.”

“Who were they?”

“A really nice older black couple Macy and Jean, they were a foster home for parahuman children. There was two other kids with me, younger; Marie-Lou and Brian, they were twins and total brats.” She said with a chuckle. “What about you, where did you stay before you came here?”

“Legion headquarters, Erna, eh Indigo, set me up. She’s the one who got me into here.”

“Eh, lucky you. I had to apply.” She said with a grin.

“How’s the application process?”

“Weird, like it doesn’t really ask about experience or anything. Instead they want an introduction letter and for you to write an essay on a superhero related topic.”

I took a moment to think about it. If I had to guess they cared more about character than aptitude, you could teach the latter, the former not so much.

“Since we have the whole house for ourselves and it’s still a nice and sunny day, want to have a little picnic outback?” Yougen proposed.

“That would be nice.”

“Can you get a big blanket and a grill from the storage closet? I remember seeing one when doing laundry.”

“Sure.”

I went and gathered what she needed along with a bag of charcoal. I went out and set it outside in the garden, keeping the grill down to a low level. When I came back into the house, Yougen was putting some sealed containers into a big lunch bag. She gave it to me to carry and she went out back. I helped her out of her chair and onto the ground, leaning against the tree I’d set the blanket against.

We then took out the food out of its bag. It wasn’t much; a fresh miche of bread cooked in the morning by Annabelle’s parents, cheeses, spreads and dips, a pesto pasta salad Yougen had just made, cookies, potato chips, cold cuts and also a pack of uncooked sausages for the grill. I helped her lit the grill and she started the first batch.

“This is nice.” She sighed, content. I sat next to her against the tree and she rested her head on my shoulder.

“It is.” I whispered. “Not thinking about survival, training, exams or any of that stuff. Just enjoying the day.”

I turned to look at her and our eyes met. She slightly leaned toward me and dropped a soft kiss on my lips.

“You know about last night…” She began. “We never got to talk about what that makes us.”

“We didn’t.” I looked away blushing, chewing on a piece of bread quietly for a moment.

“Are you having doubts, regrets?” Yougen asked, clearly alarmed at my silence.

“No!” I dropped my food down in the panic of answering her. “It’s just this is all kind of new and crazy; I actually like someone and she likes me back! I’d always kind of thought with everything that had happened to me it would never happen.”

Yougen chuckled at my answer. “You know, I had the same fears, that I’d never get to be with a boy or girl…” I reached out out she took my hand in hers and we sat there, quietly focusing on that contact. “Do you like boys or only girls?”

“I’m not even sure myself.” I sighed. “With the militia I never really had the opportunity to explore my feelings about it.”

She used her arms to drag herself closer to me and she wrapped her arms around my chest, dragging me into a hug.

“But I like you, I know that.” I whispered to her ear. “And I want you to be my girlfriend.”

“I would love to be.” She said with a grin. I repositioned myself to better kiss her, putting an arm on her thigh only for her to jerk a bit.

“I felt that!” She said, looking at her leg.

“You felt it?” I blinked.

“I’m not supposed to feel anything in my legs, but I left like a light jolt!” She exclaimed, excitement over the news, I wasn’t so thrilled. “Are you alright, Yikaru?”

“Maybe you should see the doctor? It can’t be normal for that to just happen. I want to be happy and all, but I’m seriously worried.”

“You’re right.” She sighed. “I guess we can finish lunch first?” She gave me a pleading look.

“That would be an acceptable risk.” I said with a grin. I put my hand on her cheek and drew her closer a real kiss this time.

After finishing our meal and cleaning up I escorted Yougen to the Doctor’s office. Doctor Szijkith was an oddity, even for this world, an alien doctor in love with humans. She was however clearly qualified.

When we came in and asked to see her for a consult she looked jubilant at the idea of having an excuse to chase away questioning parents here due to the open doors, well as jubilant as Venusians could look, they didn’t really show emotions well. Yougen explained what had happened and the doc happily ran some tests after which she had us wait a few minutes in her office.

“Found anything?” I asked once she came back into the office. Next to me Yougen looked a little stiff so I squeezed her hand tight.

“As is my job and was requested of the Legion, I studied your combined conditioned. Although many things are different, the one trait you both share are a filament growth coming out of the brain stem and wrapping itself across the spine.” She took out a folder of X-ray pictures from under her arm and showed it to us. “Here is the picture I took of Yougen when she first came a month ago and here is a random archive image for comparison.”

Although it was hard to tell what was happening, having never seen those kinds of pictures, the one with yougen had mass around the spine.

“And here is the one I took earlier.” She flipped it and the mass had grown just a smidge. “As you can see, the fibrous growth has begun breaching the gap between the severed vertebrae.”

“Is that good or bad?” I asked.

“This is something entirely new never encountered on this earth. I have no idea. How are your infection level Yougen?”

“42.7 for the last nine days.” She answered.

“So 1.3 higher than at the beginning of the month.” Doc Venus confirmed.

“Her infection is progressing?” I asked, alarmed at the news.

“It has, slightly.” The doctor confirmed. “But this could simply be from the increase in usage due to Ravenhold’s demands. From that data you both gave me, I believe it’s possible it will stay stable and with Yougen’s mass and age she’s still far from the danger zone.”

I wasn’t particularly relieved. Our place here was entirely reliant on using the blood’s powers, it wasn’t like we could hold out on doing that.

“I’ll still recommend avoiding extraneous usage of your abilities as much as humanly possible, but for now you’re discharged.”

“Thank you doctor.” Yougen said.

We went out and back toward the house.

“Guess I’m already scaring the crap out of you on our first day as girlfriends…” Yougen sighed after a moment of silence.

“You’re not the only infected here.” I reminded her. “And taking care of you is kind of part of what I signed up for as a girlfriend, didn’t I?”

“I guess you’re right. I’ll have to make up for it.”

“You don’t have to.” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s not start keeping scores? We just gotta do our best for each others.”

“Okay.” She nodded.

 

Strange Species: Part IV

Strange Species

Part IV: Little Ones

We all started to play in the pool together only for Tyrone to come out a few minutes later. He was wearing nothing but shorts and had a towel around his shoulder.

“Do you want to swim with us?” I asked in English, swimming to the edge.

He nodded his head very quickly. “I put my swimsuit on just for that.”

“But those are shorts.”

“They’re swimming trunks.” He explained.

So that was why Caroline had give me shorts along with my swimsuit, they were really swimming trunks? Swim suits were more complicated than I thought.

He dipped his foot into the water only to retract it immediately.

“It’s so cold!” He said.

“I’m okay?”

“Yeah but Itharii are made to swim, you don’t get cold easily in water like humans do.”

I felt so sad at the news, I’d really wanted to play with my new human friend… But Allison quickly came to help us! With their powers they warmed the pool and it was finally hot enough for Tyrone to join us and play tag as humans called it. He even taught us a game he called ‘Marco Polo’ which was fun!

When dinner was finally ready, we decided to eat outside along with many of the others. Although the main meal was land meat, which we couldn’t eat, Caroline had prepared fish for my zuzuk, Kulaat and I, like she always did when I couldn’t eat her food.

There’s something we wanted to tell you. We thought it would be better in person rather than say it over the phone…” Tzama-zuzu said as we ate dinner before looking at Zukii-zuzu for a moment. She reached out and they held hands.

What is it?” I asked.

We’ve decided to have another clutch.” Zukii-zuzu answered.

It took me a second to realize what they’d just said.  “I’m going to have little broodmates?” I screamed, beginning to wun loudly.

That you will.” Tzama-zuzu said, dragging me closer and rubbing my head gently. “We’ve decided that I’ll lay the eggs when we get back home and Iro-nunu will be the one who fertilize them.

I hugged my zuzuk, so happy to hear the news. I just had to tell everyone! I got up and made the rounds; telling Annabelle, Tyler, Allison, everyone really! I looked around for Rowan and saw they were laying on the ground, an older human male sitting on a chair next to them, talking.

“Rowan!” I said hurrying their way. “I’m going to have little broodmates! My zuzuk are having another clutch!”

“Hey Ahti. That’s really nice.” They said, showing me their teeth.

I looked at the male next to Rowan. He didn’t look like Rowan at all, I’d always thought their titi or zuzu would be like them but even bigger.

“Hello, I’m Ahti! Are you Rowan’s titi?”

“Titi?” The man echoed.

“It means father in Ibariat.” Rowan explained.

“That I am, are you one of her friend?” He asked.

“Her who?” I asked, looking around for ‘her’ but couldn’t find a her he could be speaking of.

“Her, Rowan…” Mr. Mongeux said.

“But Rowan’s not a her, Rowan’s a they, like me!”

“Honey…” Mr. Mongeux looked at Rowan. “You shouldn’t be confusing the nice little Itharii like that.” He said and I didn’t understand what he meant.

“Daaad…” Rowan sighed their ears flattening on their head. “I told you a thousand times before… I’m not a girl. I didn’t feel like a girl before I transformed and I sure as heck am not one now.”

“Right.” Mr. Mongeux said, shuffling around. “I’ll be right back…” He excused himself before going for the bathroom, my eyes following him.

“Your titi is silly. He thought you were a her!”

“He’s not bad… He just doesn’t get it.” Rowan said, lying flatly on the ground. “Even though I was assigned as a girl, I never felt like it fit. Being a boy didn’t really fit either. I was just myself; weird, awkward and not really fitting in anywhere…” They sounded really sad so I wrapped my arms around their neck and held them very tightly.

“I probably don’t make sense.” They muttered.

“I don’t understand how humans do gender, it sounds very confusing. But if being a they is what you want to be, that’s good then.” I said.

Rowan let out a snicker. “I kind of envy you Itharii, you just get to pick what you want to be and it’s your normal. We humans just get lumped without our consent in one category based on how our body looks and we’re supposed to be happy about it.”

I tightened my hug around their neck a little tighter than I thought I could.

“Becoming like this wasn’t all bad.” Rowan said after a moment. “There’s times it sucks but at the same time I don’t have to deal with being all grossed out about my own body, hating my breast or that stupid time of the month… Ugh… Guess it’s worth scaring away people.”

“But you’re not scary, you’re all nice and cuddly!” I said, making Rowan laugh. “Plus there’s a nice rumbling sound you make when we sleep together that most humans don’t make that I really like!”

“You’re sleeping together?” Rowan’s titi said. I hadn’t seen them come back. Their eyes were wide and staring at Rowan.

“Relax dad, we’re just catching Zees. Ahti doesn’t like sleeping alone.”

“I don’t know how humans do it. It’s really stressful.”

“Oh alright…” He seemed relieved but I didn’t understand why. What did he think we were doing?

“Rowan, do you want to meet my zuzuk?”

“Sure, why not.” They got up and followed me to my zuzuk, Rowan’s titi also following.

“Zuzuk, Kulaat, this is Rowan, they’re my new best friend.” I said, wrapping my arms around Rowan.

“Hey.” Rowan said, their voice all strong and gruffy.

You told me Rowan was human.” Kulaat said with a frown as she examined Rowan.

They are. They’re just one of those humans who don’t like like a human. I know they’re really big and have big claws, but they’re really nice.

Yourself… well?” Rowan asked, speaking Ibariat and looking at Kulaat. They had began taking lessons at Ravenhold and I’d helped them., but they still did know more than a few words “Scary yourself?” They tapped their chest.

“Your Ibariat is terrible!” I snickered, answering back in English. “Don’t mind Kulaat, she’s just shy and she doesn’t know much about humans.”

“Well, I don’t bite.”

“They really don’t. Because Rowan is the best human I know!” I said throwing my arms around their neck.