- LI: Sophomore Year #13 – Steam Complex Chp. 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #14 – Steam Complex Chp. 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #15 – Steam Complex Chp. 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #16 – Out of the Past Chp. 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #17 – Out of the Past Chp. 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #18 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #19 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #20 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #21 – Student Union Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #22 – Student Union Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #22 – Student Union Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #23 – Student Union Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #24 – Student Union Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year Annual #5
“Finally.” Kura groused, signing off on her package delivery at the Institute’s front desk.
“’Finally’? Asked Rita, who had come in response to a text from Kura, “You ordered that this morning.”
Kura nodded as if Rita had agreed with her. “I know! It’s been like five hours! If I knew their ‘speedy delivery’ option was so slow, I would’ve sprung for one hour delivery.” Despite her complaints, she handed the delivery man a wad of paper bills in the process of giving him back his signature tablet. The motion was smooth and automatic; he probably would have gotten his three-figure tip even if the package arrived on fire.
“It’s Kura.” Tammy explained already tearing the tape off the box.
“Yeah, it’s me.” Kura said proudly. “Is it all there?”
Tammy pulled out a bundle and read the label. “Twenty yards of white silk, Twenty yards of white 100% Egyptian cotton, 1000 thread count, and twenty yards of white microplush. Yep, all here.”
“And did you get your end done?”
Rita held up her tablet so Kura could see what she’d worked on in her spare time for the last two days. “Good enough?”
Tilting her head, Kura took the image in. “Huh. It doesn’t look like the designs the lady always shows my mom…”
“Probably because I’m not a pro?” Rita asked, “Or because I’ve never drawn this kind of stuff before? You just asked who could draw and gave me the assignment! Also, even if I don’t know anything about making clothes, I’m pretty sure you didn’t need twenty feet of everything.”
“I don’t know anything about making clothes either?” Kura offered.
Tammy smirked, “Don’t bother asking why we’re making clothes instead of buying them—or why we need the clothes at all.” Kura nodded in agreement.
Rita suppressed a laugh. “Can I ask ‘why microplush’?”
“Because it feels good.” said Zane, floating up to the girls. “Sorry I’m late… but yeah, the microplush is my payment for helping out. Not that I needed to be paid to help out on something like this, but she insisted.”
“Zane!” Kura exclaimed, grabbing the bolts of cloth from Tammy. “Right on time! We need you to get to work ASAP.” With that, she thrust them into the boy’s arms hard enough that he hovered backward a few paces.
On a lark, Rita leaned over to Zane and asked, “Do you know how to do what she’s asking?”
The young man’s luminous eyes dimmed slightly in the shadows of his hood as he shrugged. “How hard can it be? I control cloth. In theory, I should be perfect at it.” Rita then showed him the design on the tablet. “Huh. Well… at least it’s not our money being wasted on expensive silk?”
Kura snorted. “you two are being over-dramatic. The design is awesome and Zane is going to be awesome and everything is going to work perfectly because we’re doing this for good reasons and nothing bad ever happens if you’ve got good intentions.”
Before Rita could open her mouth, Tammy shook her head to let her know it was futile. “It’s the thought that counts, anyway, right?”
“I guess.” said Rita, “Even though the thoughts are weird and confusing and based on watching too many movies.” She sighed, “But if it makes Joy feel better, it’ll be worth it.”
“Joy and Maya.” said Kura. “Ever since last weekend, Maya’s been all super-frowny over Joy being super-frowny. She’s kinda gotten used to evil people wanting a piece of her, but I think she doesn’t like other people being caught up in it, you know?”
Rita cocked her head. “Not that I’m complaining—I mean I’m more than thankful that you’re trying to cheer Joy up, but why aren’t you doing something for Maya?”
Kura gave a coy smile. “Who says I’m not? But we know Mai. Doing something big and fun for her like this would make her all embarrassed and stuff. She’s kinda weird that way.”
“If you say so.” Rita said. “So what about the others? How come they aren’t here?”
Tammy spoke on Kura’s behalf, folding her arms with a smug look. “Oh, they have their assignments.”
“Oh no. I don’t care whether you threaten to sing me love songs from now until graduation, I’m not going to do anything to help out Akagi.”
Betty’s impressive coif was starting to trend from honey brown to blonde as her annoyance mounted just by being confronted with The Gnome again on her way off campus. Beside her, Annette and Hightower were giving him disdainful looks while Jacob ‘Summit’ Richmond gently massaged the bridge of his nose and waited for the cattiness and third person speech to collide and make him late for dinner.
“The Gnome makes neither a threat nor a promise.” replied The Gnome, “The Gnome merely appeals to your sense of goodwill toward your fellow students and desire to render aide to a peer in need.”
The snort that drew from Betty was particularly unladylike. “Then elf-boy, you came to the wrong girl. If Akagi needs help, the only way you’re going to get me to come running is if I can come watch her fail. Why then I would be there immediately. I’d bring popcorn.” She laughed imperiously. “I’d sell tickets.”
Taking a moment to straighten his hat, The Gnome rolled his eyes. “Your petty grudge is noted, but you misunderstand The Gnome. Akagi Kura is not the peer in need, she is attempting to render aid to another: Joy Duvall.”
Betty scoffed. “Cryptid? The fuzzy freak? Why should I care about her?”
“Joy? Now that you mention it, she has been looking glum all week in class.” Jacob said over Betty. “What’s wrong?”
Glaring back at him, Betty stage whispered, “Summit…”
“What?” Jacob asked, annoyed, “She’s my friend. And she’s not a freak. Gnome, what’s wrong with her?”
“The Gnome, thank you. And The Gnome does not know the whole story, only that she had a very bad weekend and needs something that bolsters her spirits.”
Betty let loose another laugh. “You can’t be serious. The poor little girl had a bad weekend and now she’s sad? I thought this was high school, not kindergarten.”
Jacob scowled at her. “Betty… you have no idea what might have happened to make Joy feel like that. What if someone in her family died? What if something seriously bad happened to her? You can’t say you’ve never felt bad since you started high school—I know I have.”
“Now, now,” said The Gnome. “The Gnome has no trouble believing that Rapunzel is incapable of basic human emotion. That would explain why she is so willing and capable of inflicting emotional distress.”
“You shut up!”
“Correction: The Gnome knows for a fact that Rapunzel is capable of wrath.”
Hightower put his arm around Betty. “Babe, you hair’s about to go completely white. He’s not worth it.”
“He’s worth you punching him across the street.” Betty muttered.
“Not worth getting any of the staff on my ass.” He shrugged to Summit. “Man, you wanna help Cryptid out or whatever, go ahead. That’s probably why Rita wasn’t up for getting dinner with us now that I think of it—she’s Cryptid’s roommate right?”
Betty groaned. “God, half our group is going to be infected by loser. Rita’s already on thin ice, spending so much time with leather girl.”
Beside her, Annette sighed and rolled her eyes. “Are we going to doing the eating or not? If summit wishes to helping the little hairy girl, then it is his business and none of ours, yes?”
Strands of Betty’s hair shifted from white to gray and she slapped her forehead, giving the girl a sidelong glance. “Have you learned nothing from hanging out with us? Of course it’s our business. We have an image to maintain and by spending time with kids with lame powers, it makes us look lame in comparison!” She gestured to The Gnome, “I mean look at this! People are going to see us with him and think we’re like him.”
“Please.” Annette waved her friend’s complaint off. “No one will ever believing that there is anyone like that one.”
“Indeed, The Gnome is one of a kind. My thanks for the complement.” The Gnome swept his hat off and bowed to her.
Annette shrugged, “It was not a complement, but if you are taking it as one, you are welcome.”
Before she could interject anything else, Hightower tugged Betty into motion. “Yeah, whatever. We’ll meet you at the restaurant, Summit. Seeing as this is one of Akagi’s ideas… heh… good luck.”
Jacob waved to the other three as they headed off, then turned back to The Gnome. “So, uh… what can I do to help make Joy feel better?”
The Gnome grinned. Separating Jacob from his clique was his plan all along. “As a matter of fact, The Gnome knows exactly what it is you can do.”
“So let me guess: Kura was just waiting for half an excuse to do something zany.”
Phil Simms was walking slightly behind Phineas as they walked down one a sidewalk, hot on the trail of Phineas’s assignment from Kura.
“Man, who knows what goes through that girl’s head? Maybe she’s really trying to do a good deed. Maybe she just wants to play the good guy? Maybe she saw this in a movie last week. Even money on all of them, really. The important thing? She pays in cash and has no idea how much money is worth.” Phineas was doing everything in his power to keep from counting the wad of bills stuffed into the front pocket of his sweatshirt.
“So… you don’t actually care about cheering Joy up then?” Phil asked flatly.
The plant boy chuckled. “Hey, I’m not a bad guy. Joy’s a good kid and I’ve got nothin’ against doing something nice for her… but that’d be like ‘invite her to lunch’, or ‘offer to talk’. I’ll probably do that anyway once this fails and Kura gets bored and wanders off. Going along with the nutball plan? That’s just for the payday though.”
Phil started to say something, then thought better of it. After a bit more thought, he said, “You know, I would say that’s terrible, but then I know Kura. How much did she give you to make arrangements?”
“Thirty-five hundred dollars!” Phineas exclaimed with a thorny grin. “Can you believe it? I don’t even think I could spend that much going to the absolute best places in town.”
“You’re not going to just go by Midnight Black and ask Lucy to do everything are you?” Phil asked with a suspicious glare.
Phineas paused at an intersection. “I—wait, do you think that can work?”
“Xylem?” Phil asked.
“Don’t be a dick, man. Seriously.”
By Friday evening, everything was in place and ready. Operation: Fuzzy Cheer was a go except for one small detail.
“I-I… What?” Maya asked, staring in horror at the object Kura was holding up. They, along with Rita, Tammy and Steampunk were in her and Kura’s room after class. She’d just run upstairs to change after powers training class when the ambush was sprung.
“Come on, Mai, it’ll be fun!” Kura said, bouncing on her heels.
Rita gave Maya a sympathetic look, but said, “You have to admit, it’s a cute idea. Though I have to wonder why she got Zane to make the other thing if she was going to order these.”
“B-but why me? I wasn’t even included in any of this.” Maya unconsciously backed away from the object in question. “You’re not going to make Steampunk wear one too, are you?”
Kura rolled her eyes. “You should do it because it was kinda all your idea. I mean, you are the one who told us about Joy and how she was feeling, right? And obviously Steamy has to wear one because this was all her fault.”
“An apparent social miscalculation, yes.” Steampunk said quietly.
Maya tucked her chin. “I-I was kind of hoping you’d be more worried about what to do with D-dr. Kingsbury and everything else…”
“Eh, we’ll get to him later.” said Kura. “But for now, we’ve got like ten minutes and you need to get dressed.”
“D-do I really have to?”
Kura poked out her bottom lip. “Pleeeease, Maya? It’s super-important.”
Letting out a sigh, Maya lowered her head. “O-okay. But we don’t take pictures. I-it’s going to be embarrassing enough wearing that.”
Joy trudged up the stairs to the dorms.
Today had been worse than the whole rest of the week combined. She’d known that her classwork had been suffering, and half-expected a teacher to take notice. Ms. Brant already had, and Joy lied until she got let go with an appointment with Ms. Masters.
But then the last teacher she wanted to say something about her state did: Dr. Kingsbury. He’d been none too happy that her report on mitochondria had been below her normal quality and kept her after class to give her an earful over it.
The whole time he dressed her down, all she could think of was the videos that apparently belonged to him, the motives he was hiding. And no one was doing anything to stop him. Even more disturbing was the fact that he offered to tutor her—as if she wanted to spend any more time alone with him than she absolutely had to. The whole thing left her shaking and feeling like maybe he knew that she knew his secrets.
She’d already decided to skip dinner and hole up in her room by the time she pushed the door open.
All of those thoughts burned away like fog before the rising sun as she beheld one of the most bizarre sights she’d come across in her life: Kura, Rita, Steampunk and Maya… wearing glittery purple and blue tutus with iridescent gossamer butterfly wings strapped to their backs and sticks with tin foil stars glued to them in their hands.
“Wha…” She squawked, eyes going wide.
“Surprise!” Kura exclaimed, leaping at Joy and gliding in envelope her in a crushing hug.
Joy squeaked and struggled in the more athletic girl’s grip. “I… What the hell?! Why are you dressed like pixies? What’s going on here?”
Letting go, Kura giggled. “We’re not pixies. Duh, pixies don’t use wands. No, we noticed you were sad this week and decided that you needed cheering up!”
“…by being fairies?”
“Not just any fairies.” Kura grinned madly and grabbed up a package that had been sitting on Rita’s bed. “Your fairy godmothers! We got you a dress, and we’re sending you off to the ball. Biddey, Boppidy. Boo!”
To Be Continued…