- 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
Some people might consider finding a group of your peers in your room dressed as fairies surreal.
For Joy Duvall, who had spent four months in the hospital as she grew a second pair of arms and her entire skeletal structure essentially broke and remade itself, there was a higher standard for something to even register as odd. Especially when Kura Akagi was involved.
But that didn’t things couldn’t be confusing and irking. Even the fact that they had Rita with them wasn’t doing anything to mitigate her ire after the day she’d had and having to hold so much in while talking with Dr. Kingsbury.
“What the hell is this?” She snapped, causing Maya and Rita to flinch and Steampunk to tilt her head in curiosity. Not that she noticed that, as at the moment, all her attention was focused on Kura. “Is this some kind of joke? You have no idea what I’m going through and you think you can fix it with something out of a cartoon?”
Kura didn’t bat an eye. Instead, she only smiled bigger and much to Joy’s outrage, winked.
“Totally do!” she replied brightly. “And it will, too. You’ve just got to trust me, okay?”
Some of the fur on the back of joy’s neck and arms stood on end. “I’ve just got to… No! No, I won’t trust you! You’re Kura! You’re the biggest prankster in the school—a school that’s got tons of pranksters and goofballs. You’re like their queen!”
A growl was starting to rumble in her chest. “What is it you think is going to make me feel better? Doing something new to Betty because she says mean things t me? Some kind of stupid party?” She finally noticed Rita and locked eyes with her. “How did she get you to think this is a good idea!?”
Rita sighed at being put on the spot. She’d argued against the whole fairy godmothers thing, actually, but Kura insisted. Then Maya pointed out that making the whole thing look like a typical frivolous Kura plan was for the best in the long run.
“Because it is a good idea, Joy. You’ve got to remember that this isn’t a normal high school with normal teen-aged problems. Yeah, we do have problems with dating and classes and zits….” At the moment, she remembered she was talking to someone who had fur and might not even get zits as far as she knew. “…Some more than others.
“The point is, we’ve all got problems everyone else in the world doesn’t get. Even if our parents and families have powers, it’s a hell of a lot more different now than when they were growing up. The adults… none of them are going to get what you’re going through, but we do. We know what you’re going through Joy, and trust us: you need this. We’ve got a nice dress, we’ve got a limo, we’ve got a nice dinner and everything planned out; so please just go along? For me?”
Joy’s eyes narrowed for a moment as she parsed everything Rita was saying. As she did so, she swept her gaze over the others. Maya was staring at the floor, which wasn’t unusual, but she looked mildly guilty… which would explain a few things. Steampunk was a statue, stuck in her moment of owlish curiosity. The only proof she was alive was her blinking.
That left Kura, who looked so excited she might burst. That wasn’t encouraging. An excited Kura, was a Kura that was up to something. And flighty and troublesome she might be, but the girl had charisma to lend and organizational powers that would make the secretary of Defense jealous. Joy hated and feared admitting it, but Kura could lead people into hell if she so chose—which was why, even with an endorsement fro normally level-headed Rita, Joy was still on edge.
Seeing Joy’s eyes land on her, Kura perked up and straightened her back. While she wasn’t extremely tall, she was taller than the diminutive Joy by a good bit. “I swear on a pile of my daddy’s fishsticks that you’re going to look back at this as the most awesomeest day of your life—and that’s saying something, ’cause ‘awesomest’ isn’t a word!”
“Maybe you won’t be that excited.” Rita cut in, “But it’s going to be a great night and it will make you feel a lot better.”
Joy started to reply when out of the corner of her eye, she saw Maya nudge Steampunk with her elbow, then lean up to whisper n her ear. The blonde nodded one, then stepped forward, skirting effortlessly around Kura to stand before Joy.
“I am…”she paused to formulate the correct phrasing. “I regret the callus manner in which I exposed you to the information I recovered. I should have endeavored…” She paused for a long moment and then corrected herself. “I should have asked someone more empathetic to do so for you.”
A vengeful little flicker in the back of Joy’s mind wanted to ask if Steampunk even comprehended what she’d done wrong, but she recognized that as the product of a stressed and unhappy mind that it was and bit the comment back. “You… well yes, you should have.” She said softly, “But I understand why you didn’t think of it. It’s… okay.”
And shockingly, it was. After all, no matter how brutally and impersonally she’d done it, Steampunk had no frame of reference as to why that should have upset Joy. Hell, Steampunk didn’t even know what she should be upset b her… creation.
Things started to snap into perspective once she had that thought. Seconds before, she’d been ready to tear into the girl even though she was just as much of a victim as Joy herself was. That wasn’t how Joy wanted to be; how she wanted to act. Things really were getting to her if she was veering that far out of character.
“…You know what? Rita, I think you might be right. I need some time off.” Holding out her hands in a surrendering gesture, she looked to Kura. “Alright, Kura. You win. What do I have to do first?”
Kura’s smile could have let the bottom of an oubliette. “Step One: The Dress.”
The dress turned out to be a midnight blue affair with a halter top to avoid interfering with her wing-arms and a flared skirt with golden accents and black fringe along the bottom. Joy couldn’t wear shoes, but Kura had provided jewelry. Knowing Kura and her lackadaisical attitude toward money, she half-expected the earrings and necklace to be made of actual silver and sapphire, but as far as she could tell, they were just very nice costume pieces.
Once she was dressed (which included half an hour of Kura futzing around wit her power to get the dress’s color to something that flattered gray fur), she was hustled into a limo, which whisked her off to a steakhouse called Rider’s Rest. It was a nice place, once again less fancy than she expected one of Kura’s stunts to lead her to.
Stepping out of the limo, she looked around nervously on her way to the door. None of her temporary ‘godmothers’ had offered any more explanation as to what she was meant to do once she got there. Kura’s spiel about sending her to ‘the ball’ implied there were going to be other people there. Her stomach twisted at the idea. After all, she hadn’t seen Kura’s usual partner in crime, Tammy, all day.
Upon reaching the tinted glass doors, she took a moment to gather her courage before pushing them open. Time to face whatever stupid thing Kura had…
“Hey there, Joy.”
For the third or fourth time that day, Joy felt her fur stand on end. She always thought of her protomorphism as making her batlike, but she was feeling more and more like a skittish alley cat. A cat who, it seemed, had got er own tongue, as it took what felt like a full minute to manage, “Jacob?”
Jacob Richmond, AKA Summit cut an impressive figure in his black sports coat and trousers. He looked every inch an All-Star football hero out on the town. And he was holding a bouquet of red tulips. He smiled and stood from where he’d been sitting on one of the benches reserved for people waiting for a table to open up.
Joy goggled. “Kura’s idea of cheering me up was setting me up on a blind date with you?”
“She didn’t tell you I was going to be here?” asked Jacob, coming to meet her and offering the flowers.
Joy accepted the flowers with a shy smile. “She dressed herself and my roommate and her friends like fairies and acted like I was Cinderella. I’m lucky she let me put the dress on instead of setting up some kind of trap that put me in it.”
Jacob laughed. “Yeah, that’s Kura and her crew. Even I don’t know how this whole evening’s supposed to go—after dinner, we’re supposed to get in a town car in the parking lot. You don’t think Kura would send us to a hotel or something, do you?”
Beneath her fur, Joy blushed. “I wouldn’t put it past her. If she does, let’s run up a room service bill that will make her dad revoke her dad cut her line of credit.”
“That’s not very nice.” Jacob said even though he was chuckling. “I mean after all, she did go through an awful lot to cheer you up.” As he said this, he raised a hand to the hostess, “Excuse me? This is us—it’s supposed to be under Akagi?”
“Of course.” said the hostess, “follow me to your table.”
As they did so, Joy had time to think of what Jacob said. In her own uncomfortable way, Kura was trying and it was for her benefit, so maybe she could afford to let her off the hook for… And it was at that moment that the realization hit her like a semi hauling clue-by-fours.
“Jacob…” she said, as they neared their table. “…did you know you were meeting me here?”
The table was a booth in a quiet corner, so Jacob stood and waited for Joy to decide which side she wanted to sit on. “Well yeah. Of course.”
“And you still came?” Joy was starting to construct a theory and it involved Kura framing the situation in an entirely different context for Jacob than it was for Joy. What did that ‘language of flowers’ thing say about red tulips anyway? Did people still use that? Maybe he just like tulips.
At her question, Jacob looked confused. “Why wouldn’t I? All this week, you’ve been acting pretty upset, and I was going to ask if you wanted to talk about it, but before I managed to, The Gnome and I had this talk…”
Joy fought her urge to face-palm and instead slid into the near side of the booth. Of course Kura would have The Gnome in on whatever was going on. He was her staff counterpart—someone had even used them as examples in English class.
“And he didn’t know what Kura had in mind, but he said the rumor was that, uh…” Jacob’s face darkened in a blush as he took his seat across from her. “…that you liked me. Like like.”
The hostess, who had been waiting for them to be seated, menus and special at the ready cooed. “That is so sweet. Like when I was in high school.” She set the menus at the edge of the table and added, “I’ll give you two a few minutes to talk.”
Then she was gone and Joy was left alone with her crush and a billion reactions all trying to get out of her mouth at once. Unfortunately for her, the one that escaped was, “So you knew this was a date and you still came?”
Jacob blinked owlishly and rubbed the back of his neck. “Um… This’d be my first one, actually. Since I got my powers. Not sure if you can call hanging out at the Fireman’s carnival or the Fall Fair a date, so maybe it’s the first one ever.” He coughed, realizing he was talking too much.
“Point is, I don’t really, you know, think a lot about dating. My folks and I had a talk, and I’m supposed to be focused on school, you know?”
Joy didn’t. Or at least, she didn’t know what this was going, so she just nodded.
“But, when The Gnome said he was pretty sure you liked me… I mean Betty never stops trying to fix me up; usually with girls I don’t know that don’t even go to our school… but you’re my friend, and we usually have a good time when we’re hanging out, and…” His face grew more red and he reached up to rub the back of his neck again, “You’re pr—cute. Especially in that dress. And The Gnome said it would help cheer you up, so I figured that outweighed my one reason not to so…”
After a few awkward moments, he added, “And now you’re just staring at me like I’m nuts, so that was probably a stupid thing to say. Lots of stupid things to say. Uh, can we maybe forget I said anything and—”
“No!” said Joy’s mouth before she could think. “Er… I mean that’s not necessary.” She felt her ears droop a bit. “That is, The Gnome was right. Or the rumors were right. Whichever. I just didn’t think you—or anyone—would really be okay with that. I wouldn’t blame you. All my sisters are beautiful and I wasn’t all that even pre-fur. When they said I had protomorphism, I was hoping it’d make me like Sonja Remington, or at least make me taller, less of a pipsqueak. I just…”
Jacob cut her off with a laugh. “Joy, you’ve got nothing to worry about. So you’re not like other girls. I’m not like other guys either.”
“Yeah, but look what it did for you!” Joy pointed out, then shrunk back, realizing the implications.
Jacob waved it off. “People say that, but even if you ignore the stripes, I look like I’m a full grown man—I’ve looked like that since the whole time I’ve been a teenager. It might not be the same kind of thing, but it’s got its own awkwardness to it.” He pointed to his student ID badge, clipped to his coat’s outer pocket. “There’s a reason I wear this on the outside all the time; so people don’t think I’m some creeper hanging with high school kids.
“Anyway though, I don’t care what other people think of how you look: I like you, Joy. And maybe, I don’t know… we can do this again sometime. Without Kura shenanigans this time?”
Despite the fierce blush heating her face, Joy smiled—and this time, she smiled openly and fully, not trying to hide her teeth. “I’d really like this.”
“So would I.” Jacob said, smiling right back. “Now, if you don’t mind me asking, what was bothering you so much? I really do want to help.”
Taking a deep breath, Joy told him.
Some hours later, after a nice dinner and a long discussion wherein Joy finally talked out everything that had been weighing on her for the past week, a white town car dropped the new couple off at an apartment tower a few blocks from Riverside.
It was a modest middle class tower for working families, with a supermarket at its base and an adjacent private playground. The driver handed Joy an envelope that contained a business card with an apartment and floor number on it.
“Tell me she didn’t buy an apartment for us or something.” Joy muttered as they rode the elevator up.
“There are so many things about today I’m not sure whether or not I can tell my parents,” Jacob mused, scratching behind his ear, “Is it wrong that ‘a friend bought me a love nest for my new uh… girlfriend… is the least of my worries right now?”
Joy nodded. “Yeah, you’ve got a point.”
The elevator stopped and they got off, searching for apartment 807. Soon enough, they were at the door with Jacob knocking, seeing as they didn’t have a key.
To his surprise, but not so much Joy’s, Kura answered the door. “Wow, you guys are so late! Everyone else is here!”
Joy stared at her for a second before asking the obvious. “Everyone else?”
Kura nodded. “Uh-huh. Like I said, today we’re gonna do something to make you feel better. Step one was making sure no one was following you. Step two was getting everyone we can trust together: we’re going to deal with Kingsbury and your dad and anyone else trying to screw us out of having a school for people like us.”
She struck a heroic pose. “Today is the first meeting of the LI Student Union!”
To Be Continued…