Jordan Winters 1
Town & Gown
By Bek D Corbin
Edited by Steve Zink
I could feel it, hovering in the air like a vulture. Booker Lennox's family had moved to Wooster, and Booker had left it here, the gutless little slimedog. Not that I really blamed him. Y'see, Booker had worn the Fool's Cap for almost five years, and that's more than enough for any kid. But that meant that the position of Designated Victim was open, and everyone was waiting to see who it was gonna be. There were some that were too big or too cute or just plain too mean to worry that they'd be the next Designated Victim. Heck, they were the ones most interested in selecting Booker's successor.
The Fool's Cap hung invisibly in the air, waiting for someone to do something stupid, so that the next Designated Victim would be chosen, and the group could have someone to despise. So, of course, I did something stupid.
Like most really bonehead things, it seemed like a good idea at the time. One of the things my Mom and Dad taught me when they brought me into The Craft, was how to 'pull strings' to make good shit or bad shit happen. Y'see, when people form a bond with other people, or places or things, they leave these invisible 'strings' that link them. Not all the strings are the same - some are bonds of friendship, or business, or authority. The Fool's Cap was kind of like this all-purpose 'string' that links all the kids at Horace Mann Elementary and Middle Schools and the Designated Victim. It was just flapping around, looking for somebody to tack onto. Of course, Cole Pesloe, the School Bully, and Julia Dunaway, our local Bitch-Queen in training, were out in force trying to help it find its new owner. But, hey, no problem, right? I can magick my way out of this. It's all a matter of pulling the strings all around me, so that the Fool's Cap stays well the fuck away from me.
Finding the cords was easy. You could feel the tension in the air, and the cords were bright and shining. Kids were weighing their options - what if their best bud was chosen - what if that cute girl/guy whose eye they were trying to catch got chose - screw that, what if THEY got chosen? I found one and twisted it, not so much that I thought Sally Emerson or her best girlfriend Maddy Hyatt would get the Fool's Cap, just enough to send it well out of my way. I did a little of this every time I felt the Cap floating in my general direction. I didn't want to make it land on anyone in particular; I just wanted to avoid it personally.
But I must have done something wrong, 'cause every time I twisted a cord, the Cap floated closer and closer to my own precious noggin. Now, I'll admit that I only started learning magic, let alone Sorcery (that's what we in The Craft call this cord-twisting business) a couple of years ago, so maybe I was doing something really wrong. Shit! And it's not like I can ask my Mom what I'm doing wrong. Witch or not, she's still a parent, and you just do not drag parents into school stuff like this.
The Cap floated closer. Damn! There was something that I just wasn't getting! All through school, I felt it dogging me. I stopped twisting cords, figuring that if I made it to the end of school without the Fool's Cap landing on my head, I could get home and use one of Dad's all-purpose 'Banishing Evil' concoctions to get the stink off me. Which would have been the really smart thing to do.
But as the school day snail-crawled its way to a close, I could feel the Fool's Cap getting near. So, I was feeling around for a cord, when I walked without looking straight into Julia oh-help-me-God Dunaway, and knocked her down. I tried to make things all right by helping her up, but she wasn't having any of it. As she called me a Shithead, I could feel the Fool's Cap settle on my head and weld itself there. When I came to school that morning, I'd just been a normal kid - now I was everybody's toilet paper.
I was, for all practical purposes, alone. If you look at it one way, it was really all my own fault - maybe. My 'best buds' Benny and Tim were giving me the cold-shoulder. Even my own little brother, Trey, was keeping a safe distance from me. The little rat. Not that I can really blame him - no one wants to get too close to the guy wearing the Fool's Cap. Something might rub off.
The razzing started on the bus, and Cole Pesloe even got off at my stop in order to keep giving me shit. Fortunately, the Fool's Cap isn't as powerful off school grounds, and I was able to work an Evasion on him.
I walked the quarter mile from the bus stop to our house in a state of Totally Bummed. It was Friday, and instead of two days of goofing off and hanging out, the weekend was a choice of either being a prisoner in my own home or making myself a sitting duck for Cole or any other wiseass that wants to piss on someone. If these are the best years of my life, Senior Citizenship is gonna be like crawling through broken glass.
Mom was still at her job with the local Board of Education, and Dad was driving around doing his Civil Engineer thing, so I was at least able to avoid the 'what happened at school today' question. As part of her witch-thing, Mom is heavy into Health Food, so my after-school snack was a pear, instead of a bag of chips, like normal people. I trudged up the stairs to my room, and started honing my brooding skills.
I had sucked one thumb down to a nubbin, and was starting on the other one, when Mom came home and called me down to help with dinner. Yes, make dinner. Mom has very definite ideas about child-raising methods, especially since working for the Board of Education, she sees so many households that belong on 'Married with Children'. One of her rules is that we all eat breakfast and dinner together, and that you either help make it, or clean up afterwards. And none of that stuff that comes out of a box, either - not even pre-packaged health food. Mom says that paying that much for flavored cardboard is a sin against common sense.
Mom kept looking at me weird. As we were putting the finishing touches on, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "Jordan, what is that thing on your head?"
That caught me flat-footed. She could see it? It had that much existence? I mean, I always thought of the Fool's Cap as a pretty abstract Kid thing, that adults were out of the loop on. "Uhm, well, it's what's called 'the Fool's Cap'. Y'see-"
"The Fool's Cap? You got stuck with the Fool's Cap?" She pulled me into a crushing hug. Then she gave me that 'Mad Mom' look that anyone with half a brain knows not to fuck with. "Did that good-for-nothing Reese Aubrey trick you into this?" Mom is one of the Walthers, and the Walthers have never gotten along with the Aubreys.
My heart soared. "You know what this is?"
"Of course I do! I went to the same schools that you did, and that stupid Cap has been floating around Millbridge since Lincoln was president! I just wish there were some way of getting rid of the da- silly thing in the first place! That thing ruined poor Margery Hanson before she went off to college - heck, the last time I saw her, she was still a little twitchy!"
"You know how to get rid of it?" I love having a mother who's a witch!
"Well, if that ratsass Reese Aubrey managed to-"
"Uhm, Mom, as much as I'd like to blame Reese..." I explained how I'd tried to sorcel the stupid thing as far away from me as I could, and then ran into Julia Bitch-Queen Dunaway. "You can still get this thing OFF, can't you?"
Mom looked disappointed, both in me and in herself. "Sorry, sweetie, but from what you've said, by pushing it away as hard as you did, you wound up all but putting it on your own head and nailing it on. You have to be careful with Sorcery - not that you can go willy-nilly with any of the other Arts, mind you. No, Jordan, you're going to have to find your own way of getting rid of it."
I masterfully managed to keep from blaming her - barely. Then an idea occurred to me. "Booker Lennox wore this thing until his family left for Wooster. So it's a local thing! Maybe if you sent me to a boarding school out-of-town, until it finds a new person to ruin..."
"Jordan, both your father and I are local bureaucrats - we just don't have that kind of money to throw around."
"How about moving me from Horace Mann over to Tolbathy, on the other side of town?"
"First, I have no real reason to move you, even if I do work for the Board. Second, that's at least an extra hour's commute both ways - do you think that you could really handle that? And lastly, there's a very good chance that it might just follow you. Your name has been linked with it by now, and even if the spiritual form of it lags, the reputation will follow you, bringing the spirit form along in its own good time."
<Nnnggghhh!> "So, what am I gonna DO?"
Mom smiled at me weakly, "Ah - make the best of it? I've heard tell that back in the 20's, a girl named Hannah Romney wore the Fool's Cap from the fifth grade through high school, and hid in the library. She read so much that she was the first girl from Millbridge to go to Law School. I understand that she was also one of the first women litigators in Massachusetts!"
I gave Mom a frosty glare. I was expecting some Witch-wisdom, not Mom-wisdom.
She just sighed, and hugged me tighter. "You'll just have to find your own way, sweetie. Everything else is just gas."
That night I stayed up in my room, instead of seeing what everyone else in town was doing. I stayed, 'cause I knew if I showed up, that I'd be what everyone else was doing. That's what happens to someone wearing the Fool's Cap. Of course, I was only wearing the damn thing, 'cause everybody knew that I was wearing it.
My eye fell on the long mirror on the inside of my closet door. Well, if I'm stuck in here, I may as well take advantage of it!
I locked the door, and thought about putting an Aversion on it. But given the way that my luck with Sorcery was going, I'd probably have Mom and Dad knocking every five seconds, wanting to know what I was doing.
I went into my closet and opened up my super-secret hidden stash, up in a nook at the top of the closet. In the cardboard box was a small collection of barely used women's clothes that Mom never missed. I took off my glasses and put in the contact lenses that I nagged Mom for, and hardly ever wear. I stripped, and put on a bra with foam plastic inserts, panties, and a long silky slip. Then I sat down on my bed, and brushed my hair as I watched myself in the mirror.
Our house is built on a place where Glamour runs strong through the Earth. No, not Vogue magazine type glamour, but the source of the word - Glamour is a Scots word for that magical energy that the Fae use to weave illusions that are indistinguishable from reality for short periods of time. Glamour is born of sunlight, and runs through the Earth, giving life to all things. Witches like Mom, Dad, me and a couple of hundred neighbors, can pull Glamour up from the ground, and run it through our bodies to heal and nurture. We can also run it through our minds and dreams to weave illusions like the Fae do. Especially since Mom is a Walther, and the Walthers are supposed to have a lot of Fae blood. Dad is from out of the region, but Mom claims that one or more of his female ancestors must have shacked up with a Fae lord somewhere along the line. The house was built to focus the Glamour, and Dad enchanted my mirror so that it would keep Glamour like a battery.
As I brushed my hair and daydreamed, I tapped into the Glamour stored in the mirror. My image in the mirror twitched and changed. My reflection's hair grew long and went from straw-colored to spun gold. In a few moments, it went from just over the ears to down to its (my?) waist. The eyes went from gray to sapphire blue, and grew large and lustrous. The nose turned up, the chin narrowed, the cheeks developed bone structure, and the mouth became a cute cupid's bow. The skin went from acne spotted (actually, I have a lot less acne than most guys my age - it may have hurt my chances for dodging the Fool's Cap), to flawless peaches-and-cream. The neck became as graceful as a swan's, and a generous bust developed under the slip. In time, the slip became a gown of silvery satin and lace, which swept down to the mirror-girl's feet, and had long bell-sleeves. The girl in my mirror had gone from a gawky fifteen-year-old boy in bad drag to a figure from a feminine hygiene product commercial.
I watched the mirror-girl for a while, and then I felt my own hair grow longer with each stroke of my brush. With each stoke of the brush, I felt the mirror-girl's transformation be repeated on my own body. With one thousand strokes of the brush, the Glamour was complete, and I was beautiful. I put down the brush and twirled around, exulting in the feel of it all. I was a girl, a beautiful girl! I ran my hands over my body and barely managed to restrain a gasp as I caressed my breasts.
Now, you're saying to yourself, those 'breasts' are just foam plastic falsies, right? True enough, but the thing about Glamour is that it is an illusion, but it isn't an empty illusion, like a hologram. As long as you accept the reality of the Glamour, whatever illusion the Glamour creates is real enough to hurt - or feel really good, like it was now.
I touched myself between my legs, and there was nothing there but a pubic mound, the illusion was that good. Penetration was not open for discussion, at least at this stage in my training, but I could make myself feel very good by rubbing the mound. Heck, I'm the only guy I know who knows what a multiple orgasm feels like!
As I basked in the afterglow of the multiple orgasm, I mused on how much I loved being a girl like this, and wasn't it a damn shame that I couldn't go out like this-
Everybody knows that the Fool's Cap is welded to the head of 'Dan' Winters, a fifteen-year-old boy. What if I went out as a girl, like this? Even if I meet anyone I know, they'll see a foxy babe, with absolutely no link whatsoever to the Fool's Cap. My friends wouldn't recognize me, but most of them were practicing Quarantine measures against me, anyway. Maybe it's time for me to make some new friends, not as 'Dan', but as Jordan. At least I could walk around and not get jumped every five minutes.
But maintaining a Glamour like this takes concentration, something to keep the image stable. I'd need something to keep it running while I'm paying attention to other things, like writing a program onto a computer disk. Write. Draw. A picture. I can draw. Heck, drawing is both one of the things I enjoy most, without getting my drawers sticky, and it's also one of the things that I really do well.
I trotted out my pad and pencils, and went to work capturing the mirror-girl on paper. As I blocked out her/my basic shape, I giggled at the thought of how Benny Styles, my back-stabbing former best friend, would react if a mind-blowing babe like the one in the mirror even so much as looked at him for very long. Oh, Crap! It suddenly dawned on me that a vision like the one I'd created would not only draw every male from fifteen to fifty (and more than a few females), she'd be the talk of the town - everybody would want to know who she was. And at 7,000 people, Millbridge is big enough for a little anonymity, but small enough for people to compare notes. They'd ask me questions, and a witch can't lie. Y'see, when you can make things what you want them to be by force of will, the world is what you say it is. If you knowingly lie, then you confuse the way your will works on the world, and things get all tangly.
So, I'll have to tone things down a little - make the hair only shoulder length, and only blonde and not moonsilver. Make the eyes just blue and dancing, not sparkling sapphires of delight. Make the face cute, but not a vision of Aphrodite, and give her the body of a nice fifteen-year-old girl, and not a pubescent fashion model. I purposely left the clothing a blank, so that I wouldn't be always running around in the same outfit, like a Saturday morning cartoon character. When I was finished, I looked down at my pad and saw a very cute girl, one I wouldn't mind meeting in real life. Then I looked up at the mirror, and there she was, looking back at me. I looked down at myself, and there she was again, and she was me!
I walked around my room for a bit, getting the feel of this new form. Not bad, not bad at all! Not the ethereal gorgeousness of the one that I assumed before, but it had the benefit of being actually human, and not a vision of the Fae. It was more real, and actually a lot more comfortable.
Okay, the picture trick works, but I'll need to keep it with me in order for it to work, and I can't always be lugging a picture of myself around. I needed something to keep it in. Picture. Frame. No. Wallet. No. Locket. YES!
A locket! And I had one that I'd been meaning to give to Sally Emerson before she decided to go steady with Arnie Gannon - don't ask me why. But there must be more to it than that. I dug out the Book of Rivers, which is sort of a primer for people learning Wizardry, which is the Craft name for what I'd been doing. I had four books like the Book of Rivers, which dealt with each of the Five Arts. Come to think of it, I'd better look in the Book of Threads to see what I did wrong in trying to dodge the Cap of Fools earlier. The thing is, I'm supposed to read a couple of pages out of each of these five books every day, but that's homework. Don't I get enough of that from school, I gotta have my own parents piling on extra stuff?
I found what I needed - a technique (the term 'spell' is just so Harry Potter, don'cha know?) to fix a Glamour. It would take a little work, and I'd have to read in the Book of Marks to find the proper enchantments, but it would work. Between weekend chores, yoga practice, research, inscribing the Runes on the locket, creating the glamour again, and Saturday morning cartoons, my Saturday was pretty much booked. But that just meant that I could really look forward to Sunday.
I managed to get everything that I needed to, done. In a house full of witches - not to mention two snoopy younger brothers - that's a lot more easily said than done. I managed to find a stash of Mom's old clothes up in the attic, which didn't look that bad for being a couple of years older than I am. I put together an outfit consisting of a white light denim blouse with mother of pearl buttons, a blue denim skirt that reached just below my knees, and a brocade vest that had a cinch in the back, so that it would fit right. The outfit really called for a pair of white leather flats to go with it, but a pair of nicely androgynous sneaks did the job.
That night, after lights out, I set up the working in my closet, so that the light wouldn't get anyone suspicious. I called up the Glamour out of my mirror, and infused it into the drawing. I SAW the picture-girl, in every detail, in all respects, and I breathed a little bit of myself into her. Cradling her in my hands, I moved her from the paper into the locket, and shut it to keep her safe. When I snapped out of it, the image of the girl was gone from the page of drawing paper - there was only a swirl of colored pencil lead. I opened the locket, and there she was, smiling at me. The way things have been going, seeing that I pulled this off without it blowing up in my face, was just the kind of morale boost that I needed. Normally, the anticipation of being able to go out as a girl would have kept me up for hours. But doing a working of that magnitude really takes it out of you, and I almost fell asleep on the floor.
Sunday morning, after church - yes, we go to church; the local Unitarian church, like most of the local witches - I made like I was going to my usual Sunday Role-Playing Game up in the college quarter. Of course, I didn't mention that the GM was busy that weekend, and the game had been called off. I biked up to the college quarter, locked up my bike seven ways to Sunday, and looked for a place to change.
Now, I'm guessing that you're wondering 'why doesn't she just Glamour up her guy clothing into a dress or something?' Well, the fact is that Glamour can't make an illusion out of nothing, and the less it changes something, the easier it is to do. Also, you gotta remember that Glamour is mostly a mind thing - your mind tells it to do what you want it to do, and what you want isn't always what you think you want. So, if I think that I'm wearing guy clothes, then on some level I still accept that I'm a guy. BUT if I'm wearing girl-clothes, then it's easier for me to accept that I'm a girl, see?
Besides, it's one less thing to go wrong, and the way things have been going, I need every little bit to go right.
I found the ladies' bathroom in the park, and slipped in unnoticed. I went inside a stall, stepped out of my jeans and stuffed them in my backpack. I was wearing panties underneath instead of briefs, so I didn't have to waste time changing them. I pulled the skirt around my legs, and sat down on the toilet. I was able to take my time and not hurry through the rest. After the finishing touch of putting in my contact lenses, I pulled out my trusty hairbrush and locket, and started the transformation. I was so into it that I didn't even miss a beat when a mother and her two kids came in. She knocked on the stall, and I said, "Just a minute!" in a clear, light soprano tone.
I put away the hairbrush, and stepped out of the stall. Ms. Mom didn't even blink; she just shoved little Debbie - or whoever - into the stall to take care of business. I flounced out of the restroom, just another pretty girl enjoying the park on a lovely Spring Sunday.
I took in a deep breath, with the feeling of someone who's just been let out of prison. I looked around - oh, what to do, what to do, what to do?! There was just so much girlie stuff that I wanted to do! I wanted to go shopping, I wanted to have one of those disgustingly frilly parfait thingies, I wanted to go into one of those faux bohemian coffee shops and listen to some college student pretend that he was a Greenwich Village beatnik back in the late 50's. But, I didn't have that much money on me, and I have a very low tolerance for bad poetry, so I settled for the Soda Fountainbleu, and dug into one with the works.
After that, feeling blissfully replete, I got out my sketchbook, and went to draw the waterwheels, like all the other pretentious artist wannabes.
A bit of background is needed to understand what is going on here. Y'see, Millbridge was founded back just after the Revolution - just after the American Revolution, and at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Back then, before they started schmutzing up everything with coal, they used waterpower to make the factories run. Millbridge is set in the Berkshire Hills, where the lake spills down into the river. Primo waterpower, and real close access to the source of wool, which the Berkshires are absolutely rife with. Can something be rife with wool?
This lasted for a little over a century, during which time, the Four Families (capitalization intentional) which owned the mills - and damn near everything else in this part of Berkshire county - competed for social supremacy. One rather Roman method they had of One-Upping each other was to build ever-more impressive buildings, both public and private. By the 1880's, the main drag of Old Town was downright baroque. Then the bottom dropped out of wools and noils - or at least the water-powered mills couldn't compete with the coal-powered ones. The Four Families tried to convert to coal, but just couldn't make it work. As a member in good standing of the Witchly Community, I maintain a discrete silence in regards the reasons.
Almost overnight, Millbridge went from a thriving factory town to an overdeveloped farming community, with an improbable two fully developed and funded (thanks to funding trusts that somehow proved to be unbreakable; Gee, I wonder how that happened!) colleges. Which is how it stayed (for similarly mysterious reasons), until the early '60's. In 1962, the local chamber of commerce decided to go into the Ski Resort business. They formed the MacLeod House Trust, which bought out the old MacLeod mansion and turned it into a ski lodge. While Aspen and Vale aren't sweating - heck, we mostly get turn-aways from Catamount over on the boarder with New York State - the three ski resorts do a reasonable business. Add to that Kelling College and Shandy Agricultural & Technical College, the three summer camps on the far side of the lake, and the various farms, and you have a decent enough income for the locals.
The point of this little info-dump is that being picturesque as all hell is at least forty-five percent of the town's income. They're going for a combination Charles-Dickens-Victorian/Frank-Capra-Small-Town-America look. Old Town regularly has facelifts to keep the old relics looking cutesy, and they fixed up the old trolley-car system to replace in-town busses. Come Christmas-time, living here is like being trapped in a snow globe, but between April and November, it's a pretty nice place to live.
But back to my sketching - one of the actual improvements that they made was they renovated the old mills and turned the water wheels into electric generating plants. You wouldn't think it to look at them, but they not only keep us in cheap, clean juice ten months out of the year, but they provide an obvious subject for amateur artists. Which is where I come back into this gripping narrative. I've lived in Millbridge all but four months of my life, and I've been sketching reasonably well for the last seven. But, I've never sketched the mills. Why? Because it's a chick thing. You either see girls drawing them, or the Artsy types from Kelling, as a pretext to pick up girls. And one thing about being a girly-boy like me - you cannot afford to let your friends see you do girly stuff. It's just asking for trouble.
But, here I am, just another girl for all the world to see, and I have been just aching to sketch those damn mills.
I put down a newspaper to keep grass stains off my skirt, and sat down on the banks to scratch this artistic itch. Drawing is like collecting stamps or climbing mountains or playing role-playing games - if you have to have it explained to you, you wouldn't understand the explanations.
I had the old eyesore pretty much down, and was at that really tricky point between putting the finishing touch down, and overdoing it. Then a shadow fell over my pad.
Brushing my bangs out of my eyes, I looked up. Standing over my shoulder was a boy, about my age, who I didn't recognize. It was really the wrong season for tourists, so he was from the other side of town, probably. He looked at me strangely for a second, and I was afraid that somehow, he'd managed to see through my Glamour. Was the running water of the river messing with it? Did I touch some Cold Iron without realizing it? He cleared his throat, and said nervously, "Ahhh...Nice drawing..."
I ran my fingers through my hair - that part of the Glamour was still holding, and it should be one of the first things to go. "Uhm- Thanks."
He fidgeted, with his hands in his pockets for a moment, like he was trying to make up his mind about something. "Ahhh... You come here - to sketch, I mean - very often?"
Where was he going with this? "Uhm- Nope- it's my first time drawing the Mills. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, ah, no real reason. I just - um - never saw you around here before."
"Oh? You're from around here?"
"Sorta. I live a mile or so from here. Do you go to one of the Private Schools?" Besides the colleges, there are four boarding schools that were set up in some of the old mansions that the Four Families built back when they had the money to spare.
"Me? Heck, No! What makes you think that?" And more to the point, what business is it of yours, Bub?
"It's just that I know that I've never seen you over at Tolbathy, and..."
Then it finally dropped like a brick - he was trying to pick me up! As strange as it may sound, I haven't really thought that much about boys - for me, being a girl was sort of a thing in of itself, by itself. I just wanted to be a girl, and the thought of getting together with a guy, just didn't enter into it. But still, he was kind of cute - as a boy, thinking of another boy just didn't occur to me, but as a girl, it seemed kind of normal. Well, that's Glamour for you.
I smiled up at him. He was nervous enough; I didn't want the poor thing giving himself a heart attack. "Oh, no, I'm staying with my family here, but I don't go to Tolbathy." One of the paradoxes of being a Witch is that while you can't lie, we are also taught that guile is often a better method of handling things than violence, or <gag!> Hexes and Curses. You can mislead someone, just as long as you're playing on his or her preconceptions, without actually lying. But in order to keep from lying, I had to get him off my background - which he obviously wasn't really, that interested in - and onto something nice, neutral and pick-up friendly. "Well, I'm just about finished with this - want me to draw your picture?"
"Sure! How do you want me to stand?"
"Oh, don't stand - why don't you sit over there?" He took a seat on the grass, and I began to block out his basic form. "By the way, my name's Jordan. What's yours?"
His name was Griff, short for Griffith - that he hated, of course. From that point, our conversation got easier and more natural. In the course of talking, I got an idea of what girls see in boys. There's just something about being there, with this guy looking at you like you're the most beautiful thing in the whole world. You either love it or hate it, and I loved it. Fortunately for him, I was smart enough to let him see it. From personal experience, I know how hard it is to talk to a girl, and be throwing words into the Vast Unknown, with nothing coming back. It's even worse when you hear from a third - or fourth, or even fifth - party, that you were doing well and gave up just as she was gonna let you know.
After I finished up, we did the walk and talk thing. Nothing too close, no holding hands or anything, but it was nice. It was nice to be there, looking pretty, and having him appreciate that, and talking about all the little things. Not the things that I used to talk to Benny and Tim about, but the goofy stuff that guys are supposed to be too cool to think about. And I know that he's thinking about how to get into my pants - once every forty-five seconds, according to the behaviorists - but he's way too cool to get pushy.
Griff made a comment about the sunset over the Berkshire Hills. Sunset! Shit! I had to get home and help with dinner! I made my excuses, and hurried over to the trolley lines.
"Will I be seeing you again?"
"Probably. You know how it is in a small town - once you meet someone, you keep running into them."
"Will you give me your phone number?"
"Sorry, I don't think my parents would appreciate it if strange boys start calling up, asking for me."
The trolley came. I gave Griff a quick peck on the cheek, and hopped on the car. He waved me off as I settled in, making sure to avoid anything iron. A few old people made comments about 'young love', which I refused to dignify with a reply.
When I got back, Clyde was giving me strange looks. Clyde is Dad's dog, and his familiar. A familiar, if you're not familiar with the term <heh>, is an animal that a Witch or other magic types kind of embues with a little piece of their soul that they split off from themselves. The familiar becomes sort of an extension of the magicker. Clyde's a poodle, but he's not the frou-frou kind of poodle with the big poofy hair-do. Clyde's a manly poodle with a mustache and simple close-trimmed dark brown fur. He's also a Standard Bred poodle, so he stands as tall as a German Shepherd, and he don't take guff offa nobody. Except Mom, of course. He's a smart poodle. Anyway, Clyde came over and snuffled at me for a while. Then he either made up his mind about whatever it was or he just got bored, and went off to look for a squirrel to terrorize.
The next day was Monday, naturally, and the semi-official Razzing of the Designated Victim began. Nobody talked to me except the Cole Pesloe swarm - and they weren't interested in discussing the World Trade Organization. My books mysteriously kept falling out from under my arm. My pencils kept disappearing. For some mysterious reason, I kept falling over my own feet. At lunch, I got food 'accidentally' spilled on me five times. In Gym, I got a good idea of what being a tackling dummy is like. To make things worse, Mr. Backus, the Gym teacher, somehow picked up on the vibe and went with it.
Like I didn't hate Gym enough as it is.
I managed to give the Pesloe swarm the slip by the ridiculously simple expedient of not submitting to the torture chamber on wheels that the School Board uses for a bus. I had the outfit that I'd worn in town in my backpack, and I walked downtown. I took about $50 out of my Christmas Club account, slipped into my 'Jordan' persona and hit the Clothing Exchanges. One nice thing about living in a college town, students are always hard up for cash, so there are all these places offering ways to save money. I picked up a nice outfit consisting of a striped jersey top and a blue jumper. With my guy-stuff in my backpack, I headed for one of the Old Town parks, and settled down to do my homework.
I wouldn't have tried holding up an illusion in public while trying to wrap my brain around one of Mrs. Morris' word problems without my locket. Once again, a shadow fell over my work. I looked up, half hoping that it was Griff. Instead, three guys were standing over me. "Hey, babe," one of them said.
"Hey," I replied, showing my razor-sharp wit.
"What's a cute little number like you doin' sittin' here all alone?" Now, mind you, these guys weren't bad looking; the one with the dark curly hair was even kind of cute. But they were giving me this really creepy vibe.
"Ah, I'm waitin' for a friend. Gettin' the homework outta the way while I wait."
"Hey, why don't we keep you company while you wait?" He sat down and draped an arm over my shoulder.
I tapped my pencil on the paper a couple of times. I mean, get real! Guys do not think that this kind of thing is sexy! This asshole just has to know that he's being obnoxious. I stowed my homework into my backpack, shucked his arm off my shoulder and got up. "Hey, where ya goin'?"
I walked, not bothering to buy into any stupid word games with this yutz.
"Hey! What? You think you're too good for me, or somethin'?" Asshole, I know Bag Ladies who are too good for you.
I kept walking, but they let me know that they were following by keeping up a steady stream of snide comments. I picked up the pace, hoping to get to a store or something before they took it up a notch and got really nasty. I spotted a women's clothing store - perfect! They couldn't follow me in, and even if they waited for me, the owners would probably let me stay until these yutzes either gave up, or got spotted by the cops. I picked up my pace again, not quite running, and made for the store.
The first asshole saw what I was up to, and headed me off. "And where do youthink You're going?"
I tried to think of something to get the point across that I didn't want to be these assholes' squeaky toy, without pissing them off too much. Then from behind us, "Actually, I was gonna ask you dweebs the same thing." I looked around, and Griff was standing there with three other guys. They were standing in a 'we're standing our ground, and perfectly willing to pound you' posture. "Hi, Jordan. You know these guys?"
"NO. We just met," I gave the bozo-pack a withering glare, "DIDN'T we?"
They made 'we aren't afraid of a fight, but it ain't worth it' noises, and shuffled off.
I smiled up at Griff and said, "Thanks. I was doing my homework over in the park, and they thought that I was trolling for sailors."
"Why were you doing homework in the park?"
"I got little brothers."
"Gotcha. Oh, Jordan, this is Stew, Lex, and DeeJay. Guys, this is Jordan, that girl I met over by the Mills Sunday." I gave them my best cute-girl smile. They murmured various howareyas.
I looped an arm through Griff's and asked, "So, what are you guys doing here?"
"Oh, just hangin'. I usually wait until after dinner to do my homework. So, you in a hurry to get that homework done?"
"Who's ever in a hurry to do that? Whatcha got in mind?"
What he had in mind consisted mostly of a lot of early teen hanging out. It was pretty cool to be the 'chick' in the pack, with all that earnest guy-appreciation coming my way. I managed to steer them toward the Soda Fountainbleu, and get treated to one of those frilly parfait thingies. The guys ordered more manly frozen desserts. Oh well, their loss. We did the chitchat thing for a while, and then she walked up.
"Hi, guys! Whatcha doin'?" she chirped.
"Oh, not much, just hangin' out. Wanna join us?" Lex asked, without bothering to ask me about it. Well, that's one demerit for you, little mister!
"Sure!" She sat next to Griff in the booth, which wasn't really as obnoxious as I thought it was - Griff was seated next to me, and Lex, Stew and DeeJay were opposite. "Who's your new friend?"
"Oh!" Griff gestured toward me. "Paris, this is Jordan." I gave her a smile and wave over his shoulder. "Jordan, this is Paris Ashbroom. She goes to Durward." Durward is one of those la-de-dah Private Schools in town that they made out of some of the Four Families' spare mansions. I wondered why she was hanging out with a bunch of Tolbathy kids. We exchanged those measuring smiles, the kind that are sort of like fencers saluting each other before they start jabbing at each other with swords.
Glamour is an interesting thing. Paris was the kind of girl that I would really have like to get closer to as a boy - long, straight dark hair, oval face, little button nose, peaches & cream complexion, large dark eyes, the beginnings of a really nice figure. But, as a girl, all she was to me was competition. Just by being there, she was cutting into my male appreciation. We exchanged a few remarks over Griff's shoulders, just enough to reach the same general conclusion: competition, but not a real problem - we're different types, and will attract different kinds of boys; a state of antagonism is contrary to both interests. OR, don't eat off my plate, and I won't eat off yours.
The tension between us eased a quantum shift when it became apparent that she was spending most of her time checking out Lex. Almost reflexively, I checked Lex out to see what Paris saw in him. He was cute enough - broad smile, laughing eyes, milk chocolate brown complexion, hair cut close to his scalp, trim athletic build. Hey, if I were into black guys, I might try to give Paris a run for her money. And given the fact that blacks are rare enough in Millbridge, and that the boy/girl ratio among them is roughly 7:5, Lex stepping out of his ethnic group didn't seem that off, either. Come to think of it, his buddy DeeJay, who was also black, might also be having a few problems in the available dateage department. Semi-automatically, I started thinking of any girls I knew who might be a good match for him. Then I remembered that I wasn't a full-time girl. Asking around would create mountains of trouble to solve a molehill problem. Maybe wearing the Fool's Cap was making me stupid. Naaahhh... I was always this dumb.
We chatted around the table for a while, when Lex asked Paris, "So, is that party at your place still on?"
Paris wrinkled her nose. "Sorta. The Pater Familias went into his Headmaster mode-"
Griff butted in to explain. "Her father is the Headmaster at Durward."
I made a sympathetic face. "And you go to Durward, too? *Eeyew!* Suck Factor 100!" Though it did go a long way toward explaining what a Private School girl was doing hanging with Public School boys.
Paris made a 'the stories I could tell!' face. "Tell me about it. Anyway, Daddy put on his Headmaster hat, arranged the whole layout, and even laid out which of my CDs I could and couldn't play!"
I shrugged. "So? Pass it around to everyone who's gonna be going that it's a Bring Your Own Tunes party. After all, he only said which of your CDs you could play - he didn't say anything about what other people bring."
That stopped the conversation. Lex slapped out a beat on the tabletop. "Yes!" he beamed. "Now, that's good thinking, Girl! Griff, you keep a close eye on her, 'cause you got one of the good ones!"
Paris nodded, and announced that she had to go to the Powder Room. And since it is a crime against nature for a girl to go by herself, I naturally had to go with her. As we took care of 'business', we verbally fenced a bit. I won't bore you with the verbatim details, 'cause it would take subtitles from Chick-speak to normal English, but it was settled that Lex was just being expansive and not making any advances. Also, I let it be known that I was more than happy being linked with Griff, and respected her turf on the matter. After a little maneuvering, it was accepted that we were equals, and friendly, but I shouldn't expect any invites for sleepovers any time soon. But, in exchange for the 'bring you own tunes' idea, I was de facto invited to her little do, on the warning that if her father objected to the idea, that she would lay the blame on me. I felt that was acceptable, and pumped her for ideas as to what would be the expected level of dressiness. She responded that it was low-level dressy, but still dressy, and not to get too jazzy, or her daddy would go postal. We finished up, and looked at ourselves together in the mirror.
"We look like Betty and Veronica," I joked. She nodded, and that was it. And you thought women spend so much time in the bathroom because they're doing their makeup!
We went back to the booth, and discovered that the boys had done a little arranging, so that Paris could sit next to Lex and I could sit next to Griff. The little dears. We did the chitchat thing for a while longer, and Griff managed to get me invited to Paris' party. I don't know what I would have done without him. Then I made 'Gotta get home to help with dinner' noises, and Griff saw me off to the trolley. I gave him another peck on the cheek for his gallantry. Funny, I don't seem to be having any problems doing that. I would have shifted back to 'Dan' mode after getting off the trolley, but I caught signs of the Pesloe swarm patrolling the area for trouble.
I walked halfway home, changed in a wood near the house, and walked the rest of the way in jeans. When I got home, I gave the obligatory 'I'm home!' cry, and made my way to the kitchen. Then I remembered that I'd only gotten half of my homework done before the bozo-pack latched onto me. Shit. I'd have to do the rest before bedtime, and I hate going to bed with Algebra on my mind. I get these weird dreams where X and Y are conspiring to trap me in a quadratics graph with a wild hypotenuse.
Then I saw Boris and Natasha giving me weird looks. Boris and Natasha are a pair of Russian Blue cats, and they're Mom's familiars, like Clyde is Dad's. Don't ask me why Mom rates two familiars. Anyway, they were giving me these long intense cat-looking-at-a-mouse-deciding-if-they- want-to-'play'-with-it looks. Then they got down off the bookcase and wound themselves around my ankles for a while. Then they slinked off in that 'I have better things to do' way that cats have.
As I was grating the cheese, Mom asked me, "I understand that you didn't ride the bus home, Dan."
"Yeah. Somehow the idea of being trapped in a small enclosed place with forty legally immune sociopaths who regard me as a public scratching post, just isn't as appealing as it used to be."
"As I remember, You used to pick on Booker Lennox as much as anyone else did."
"Yeah, but then it was different."
"Now it's You?"
"You make that sound so trivial."
"What did you do before you came home?"
"I tried to lay low in the park. I did part of my homework, until some guys tried to start something."
"Oh? What did you do?"
"I kept walking until I ran into some friends. Then the assh- ah, Idiots backed off."
"See? You still have a few friends! Benny and Timmy decided to stand up for you, didn't they?"
"Mom, the guys who saved my bacon are from Tolbathy. I just met them over the weekend."
"Oh? Well, the worst storm blows some wood up on the beach, as they say out by the coast. Are you going to bring them over?"
"Uhm, I don't think so, Mom. They don't know about the Fool's Cap, and if I brought them over here, Trace would clue them in, just to be a pest."
"Now, now, dear - your brother wouldn't do anything like that!"
I gave her an 'are you kidding?' arch of my eyebrow.
"He wouldn't do anything to hurt you, dear."
I gave her the sour 'this is not funny' glower.
"I'll give him direct orders not to say anything!"
I crossed my arms and added toe tapping to the glower.
* Sigh * "You're probably right. Well, as long as you keep up your homework, I don't suppose that hanging around with a new crowd will hurt you any."
"Good! As a matter of fact, I've been invited to a party Saturday night at one girl's house. Me, four guys, and a whole bunch of people that I haven't met yet."
Mom stopped slicing mushrooms for the Marinara sauce and looked at me. "A party? With people we don't know?"
"The girl said that her father was gonna be there, acting as chaperone or something."
She gave me a maternal 'I dunno about this' look.
"It's gonna be on a Saturday night. As in, 'No School The Next Day'."
She scrunched her face into a 'I don't wanna, but I have no real reason not to let him' scowl.
"Mom, these parties are a normal, healthy part of the socialization process. Combined with the extreme isolation forced on me by the Fool's Cap, if I miss out on this party, I could develop any number of deviant coping mechanisms - heck, I could join a cult, just for the hugs!"
She gave me an amused 'don't quote Psychology Today at me' look and sighed. "Okay, but I still want you home by at least 10:30."
I shrugged. "Okay, but if I come home at 10:30 in the morning, I might be late for church."
She swatted me with a dishtowel.
I spent the better part of the rest of the week on two projects. The first was learning the finer points of being unnoticed and spotting traps. If this keeps up, I'm gonna play the most kickass thief my RPG group has ever seen. The second was digging around in the attic through Mom's old clothing for something that could pass for a dressy but not-too jazzy ensemble.
A word of explanation would be helpful here - my parents combine their Witchcraft with a lot of that 'self-sufficiency' hoo-hah that was so big back in the 1970's. There's a compost heap out in the back yard, a Bio-Mass converter tapping our septic tank for methane, Dad brews his own beer, and Mom puts down her own Jams and Jellies. Also, they never throw any clothes away just because they've gone out of fashion. They take them up into the attic, wrap them up so the moths don't get at 'em, and wait for the wheel of fashion to turn again. Yes, we have an attic - our house was sort of a by-blow to all that Mid-Victorian construction in Old Town, and we have an attic that could house an entire extended Third World family.
The hardest part of digging around the attic wasn't finding something that fit the bill; it was being able to get up there without anyone asking awkward questions. Sometimes, having parents who are witches can really bite. I finally managed to pull together a white skirt and a blue & white striped top outfit that I think hailed from the 70's. The clunky platforms were definitely 70's vintage, and I had to invest a few dollars in that messy white shoe 'stain' to get them looking decent again - as long as you didn't look too hard.
There are laws that protect banana slugs, there are laws that protect the rights of the guilty, there are even laws that protect minors like me from finding the smut we so desperately crave on the Net; but there are no laws to protect kids from borderline psychotic Gym teachers. We're in Middle School - Junior High, fer the luvva Mike - and he has us playing Dodge Ball. Of course, his version consists mostly of having his jockizoid favorites throw balls at the 'dweebs' - namely, everyone who isn't a jockiziod - until we're all 'out' and then calling a basketball practice. They picked off everyone else, leaving me standing all alone out on the gym floor. Then they pelted me with like a thousand balls, all at once. Mister Backus, you have just made an enemy. Now, all I have to do is figure out an appropriate revenge. Unlike that Christian 'turn the other cheek' jazz, Witches believe in revenge. Well, the more Mom-ish types say that there are times and situations were revenge is called for, as long as you maintain a sense of perspective and proportion and cut it off as soon as possible. But deep down, we really believe in payback.
At the end of gym, I limped to the lockers and loitered there long enough to be the very last one through the showers, cold water or no. When you're the Designated Victim, paranoia is your friend. My ratsass back stabbing fink former best friend, Benny Styles, was gassing about something. Lacking anything better to be doing in a locker room full of naked and semi-naked guys, I listened in. Benny was talking about his new favorite topic: girls. Of course, Benny knew absolutely zip about girls, but that never stopped him before, and it wasn't stopping him now.
He was saying, "I was out by Old Town, y'know, checking out the babes, and I ran into this really fine chick from Durward." He gave a leering chuckle, implying that everyone knew about those Durward chicks, heh, heh. Asshole. "Y'know, we got to talking, and I could tell that she was digging on me. She invited me to this bash that one of the girls is throwing Saturday night. There ought to be some pretty choice gash there, if y'know what I mean." Good ol' Benny - all the subtlety of a Mack truck careening through a plate glass window.
The other guys started angling Benny for third-hand invites, but he at least had the smarts not to piss off his potential hostess by packing in a lot of gatecrashers. So, Benny was gonna be at the party. I brushed aside a flickering worry about him blowing my cover, and smiled to myself. Mister Backus wasn't the only one that I had a score to settle with. Benny Styles, at an upscale Durward party, with a pissed off witch. I smiled to myself. The CD selection wasn't gonna be the only entertainment to be had Saturday night!
Benny noticed me standing there, smiling to myself. "Hey! Waddaya think you're doin'?"
"Me? Nothin'. Just standing here."
Then Benny ripped into me, just to show that there were no friendly feelings between him and the Designated Victim. He called me a loser, a fag and a retard. I took the hint, and went into the showers. I had to deal with a few late-coming towel-snaps, but that was the worst of it.
Benny ripping into me removed any doubt that I may have had about doing him the dirty at the party Saturday night. Now, all I had to worry about was what to wear, and exactly how I was gonna stick it to him. Y'see, you can't just go around slamming people 'cause they honk you off; they have to give you the opening, you can't just make one for yourself. You have to get it so that they take a rope they already have, tie it into a noose, throw it over a rafter and put their head in the noose. Then, and only then, can you kick the chair out from under them. Such are the niceties of vengeance among the Wise.
Saturday, I had to remind Mom that only dorks wear suits and ties to teenage parties. I managed to get my backpack onto my bike without anyone noticing it, and pedaled off into town for my first party with a new crowd. I spent the better part of an hour trying to get the makeup right, before I realized that I could use Glamour to make myself more, ah...glamorous.
Finally, I was ready. I chained up my bike by the library, and walked to the Soda Fountainbleu, where I agreed to meet Griff. He was waiting there, dressed in khakis and a blue denim shirt. He looked at me in that way that I am really getting to like. I smiled back up at him, and said, "Okay, you've been to Paris' parties before - what can I expect?"
"Well, actually Paris has only ever thrown one party before, and that one wasn't exactly given her father's blessing."
I was starting to like this Paris. "So, Daddikins is making a major concession in letting her have this party, isn't he?"
"Sort of. Being Headmaster of the school, I think he figures that it's better to let her have a few parties - on his terms - than it would be to have her sneaking around behind his back."
"Hmmm...As my mother would say, a man with real control issues. Well, maybe it won't be too dire." He gave me a 'Yeah, Right' look. "Well, a girl can dream, can't she?"
The Headmaster's house was the old groundskeepers' house for the old Edmund Durward estate, one of five that the various Durwards built for themselves while the mills were still an obscenely profitable enterprise. Like most Gilded Age types, the Durwards weren't the sort to do anything halfway. The groundskeepers' house was at least as long and wide as our house, and had another floor. I understand that part of the Headmaster's gig was that he got to rent out some of the rooms on the third floor to college students and keep the rents. The Headmaster's salary was as low as the greenest rookie instructor, but the post was one of the most heavily sought after in town. My Mom works for the Board of Education - she knows these things. Paris met us at the door, wearing a long sleeved red satin blouse.
"Hieee! Glad you could make it! C'mon in!"
The place itself had that look of genteel affluence balanced with genteel poverty that academic types love so well. Kids were doing the party thing - talking, dancing, drinking the presumably unspiked punch, and staying well away from the glowering middle-aged man that I could only assume was Mr. Ashbroom himself.
I looked around, and saw absolutely nobody I knew. That could be good, that could be bad. The good part was that there was no way that I could trip up and be made by letting slip on something that only 'Dan' would know. The bad part was that this might be a 'Goonie' crowd. Like all College towns, there is a certain, ah, tension between 'Town and Gown'. We simply don't run in each other's circles. And as with all such arrangements, there are those who take it just a little too far. We Townies call the assholes that do 'Goonies', 'cause 'Gownie' just doesn't have the right dig factor.
But as Griff introduced me around, there were enough people who sounded local - if from the far side of town - that I let my worries slide. No self-respecting Goonie would let a Local come to their party - like most snobs, their self-appointed 'status' is all they really have going for them, even to themselves.
Part of the art of fitting in with any group is letting yourself fit in, so I just mingled and tried to remember as many names as I could. I used an old Witch's mind trick of picturing their face in my mind, and putting something on their shoulder to remind me of who they were - for instance, I put a tiny Eiffel Tower on Paris' shoulder, and a pot on Stew's. Griff, who didn't need anything to remind me of who he was, pulled me out onto the 'dance floor'. Y'know, dancing really is more fun as a girl than it ever was as a guy. I didn't have to worry about my 'masculine dignity' and cut loose. And if I went a little overboard, well, people are a lot more forgiving of such things in pretty girls than they are in guys. Heck, in pretty girls, it looks good!
I lost myself in the beat, and after a bit, I found myself almost alone on the dance floor, as the others watched me dance. They egged me on with cheers and whistles, and I really cut loose, shaking it for all it was worth. The tune wrapped up, and I received a round of applause as Griff wrapped an arm around my waist and led me off the 'floor'. Y'know, I think I could really get used to this 'cute girl' gig.
I settled on the arm of an overstuffed chair, and checked out the scene. Despite the dancing, the party was still trying to build up some real steam. But Mr. Ashbroom standing there was a real pail of water on the coals. Then I noticed a snowball in a coal bin - my old buddy, Benny, coming into the living room from the kitchen. He was looking around and finally spotted what he was looking for. He went up to this one girl with a long red French braid 'do, and they seemed to know each other. I was sure that Benny didn't come in the front door while I was on the dance floor, and I'd looked for him when we first came in. He must have snuck in the back door and through the kitchen. Since his 'date' hadn't gotten him past the hostess, she probably hadn't really invited him. He probably told her that he was invited to the same party as part of his chat-up.
I smiled to myself. So, Pal Benny was gate-crashing AND lying to his 'date'. Benny, you not only brought the rope, but you tied it and put the noose around your own throat. But I still have to get you to put the rope through the rafter and climb up on a chair.
Ah, sweet revenge! Lessee now, the best thing would be something that shows Benny up to be the loser, liar and flake that he is, to both the Tolbathy crowd and the kids back at Horace Mann. But first, I have to see what I have to work with.
As before, it seemed like a good idea at the time, even given my recent history regarding the Art of Sorcery. Which should have been my cue that it was gonna be a disaster. I squinted my eyes and checked out the 'strings' in the area. Bad idea. A party full of teeners, for many of whom it was a first, kept under wraps by close parentizoid surveillance? The place was a fucking cats' cradle of emotional strings! No wonder these things have such a bad rep among the old folks! Take one part pure adolescent hormones, one part testosterone, one part female politicking, and three parts too many hours watching 'teen movies' ala John Hughes, put in a pressure cooker of expectation and serve with side orders of pop rock and rap. Do not serve near an open flame. I shook my head to clear out the astral woofles from too much input.
It would be best to start with my charming hostess, who should at least have an idea of who most of the people in her house were. In theory. She was standing besides the redheaded girl that Benny had come looking for. The Benjster was getting a plateful of vittles, so I could approach and begin laying the foundation of his destruction in relative security. I gave Griff a squeeze on the shoulder, and went to talk to Paris.
"Hieee!" she greeted me. "Jordan, this is Della, my best friend in the whole world!" The party must be going well, I thought. "Della, this is Jordan; Griff brought her."
Della 'hi'ed me, and took a look at Griff. I worried that I had somehow stepped into a really complex French farce situation, where ex-best friends somehow become romantically entangled with ex-lovers. But it was just a reflexive female checking out of what another female has, to see if it's worth having.
Just then it hit me, how to get Benny. "Paris, " I asked, "I don't really know anybody here - is there anyone I should be careful around? I mean, I don't expect you to have any psychos, but y'know, there's always somebody in every group..."
Della and Paris looked at each other, and said as one, "PRISS!"
I raised an expectant eyebrow.
Paris pointed over to where a group of girls was huddled around the CD player. "See the girl with the blue tube-top and the red jeans that look like she spray painted them on? That's Priss Langston. This is the third boarding school that she's been at in the last five years. She got kicked out of her last school because a 'practical joke' with a hair conditioner made a girl's hair fall out completely. I haven't heard whether or not it grew back. Let's just say that Priss has a rather...unfortunate sense of humor."
Della screwed up her face. "Bullshit. She's just a bully. She doesn't have the heft or the social connections to be a normal bully, so she uses pranks to make other people miserable. Oh, by the way - Jordan? Do you go to Protheroe or Thackford?"
Protheroe and Thackford were the other two boarding schools in town. I hoped that she wouldn't push any more about my background. I wanted to get Benny tonight, and telling a lie would only gum up the works. "Uhm, no. My family is staying in the area."
"Well, then, stay away from April." She pointed at a dark haired girl in an Ashbroom school uniform, talking to two other girls. "She has a real thing about 'Boonies'." 'Boonies' is what Paris would call a rather...unfortunate term that some of the College types have for the locals, that seems to have seeped into the slang of the Boarding School crowd. "It doesn't matter what your family does, if you actually live around here, you might as well be Ellie Mae Clampett, as far as she's concerned."
Since she was dishing the dirt anyway, Paris pointed out a beefy white guy sporting what I like to think of as a Suburban Gangsta outfit: oversized hooded sweatshirt, baggy jeans, and way too much _at-ti-tude_. I recoiled when I recognized him as one of the three losers that ragged me in the park last Monday. "That's Ambrose Washburne. But you better call him Buck if y'don't want him up your nose."
"We, ah, met, briefly. What's his damage, anyway? Besides a bad case of testosterone poisoning?"
Della shrugged. "I think he thinks that the clothes give him an excuse to be obnoxious. Like he ever needed an excuse!"
"Where are his two buddies?"
"Doug and Donnie? If they aren't here, they'll be here soon enough. Buck doesn't go to the bathroom without Doug 'n Donnie to wipe it for him."
I smiled, dished a little more, and went back to Griff for another spin on the 'dance floor'. I had the elements, and now all I had to do was mix them together right.
I won't bother you with the trivial details of the logistics. Let's just say that it didn't take that much pulling and tweaking of strings to get Benny right where I wanted him. Actually, Priss, the Practical Joker, did most of the work. She was casting about for somebody to do something to. Better Benny than somebody who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Benny at least has it coming! So I made sure that her questing string 'accidentally' fell on ol' Benny.
It was a bear, getting all the players into their places. Working Sorcery on the fly isn't my strong suit in the first place, and as any RPG Games Master will tell you, people have a nasty tendency to do what they want, instead of what you want. I was running up a rather nasty karmic tab - I just hoped it wouldn't come due until I had a chance to make a few 'deposits'. Also, I was there with Griff, and I didn't want to be the kind of girl who leaves her date hanging.
Finally, Priss had her 'joke' all set, and Benny was taking the bait. I leaned against a bookcase in satisfied anticipation of seeing Benny's face when he was the fool, for a change. Then I heard Mr. Ashbroom's voice: "- that Bitch Winters." My ears pricked up right away. I looked over where his voice was coming from. Mr. Ashbroom was talking into his cell phone, one ear blocking out the noise from the party. He went on, but I couldn't really follow the train of the conversation, what with only hearing one side of it. I submitted what I heard to memory, word for word. He went on for a bit. I think that they were trying to maneuver Mom into a No-Win position, somehow. He finished up his business, and hung up. I reviewed what he'd said to get it right in my head.
Then Paris came by, nervously looking at her father from around the bookcase, and saying, "Shit, shit, shit!" under her breath.
"What's the matter, Paris?"
She looked at me with a lost little girl expression. "Some asshole I never saw before got himself handcuffed to the post on my bed, and whoever did it to 'im took his pants!"
I stifled a guffaw. If only I had a camera!
Paris hissed at me, "This isn't funny! If Daddy finds out about this, he'll brick me up in my bedroom for the rest of my life! Daddy agreed to let me give this party as kind of a bet - he bet that something just like this would happen! If he finds out, not only won't I ever be able to ever give another party, but I agreed that I'd stop seeing Lex!"
Okay, now that wasn't funny. My short, um, acquaintance, with Griff made me all too sensitive to having a boyfriend that you couldn't talk to your parents about. "Okay, don't panic. Who else knows about this?"
"Just Della and April - oh, and that bitch Priss - she's the one who snapped the cuffs on the pinhead, and talked April into getting him up there in the first place."
"All right. How cool is April?" Paris wigwagged her hand in a 'so-so' gesture. "Well then, she won't want to get the Headmaster honked off at her, so we can trust her to keep her mouth shut. I'll get the guys - wait; it won't look good for anybody if three guys and a girl go up the front stairs (talk about a rep you don't want!). Is there a back stair in this dump?"
"Yeah, through the back of the kitchen!"
"You run herd on your dad - I'll get Lex and Griff, and we'll figure out what to do."
Paris gave me a look that said that I'd just made a brand-new best friend, and I went back into the living room. I found Griff, and he put a proprietorial arm around my waist. "Wanna dance some more, Jordan?"
"I'd love to, but something's come up. Where are Lex, Stew and JayDee?"
He shrugged. "Oh, around."
"Round them up, and meet me in the kitchen. It's Mission Impossible time, don't get anyone too interested in you." I violated my own order with an impulsive peck on his cheek, and split for the kitchen.
The Kitchen was one of those big old 19th century kitchens that was meant to cook meals for the entire grounds-keeping staff - domestic help was cheap back then - and had been converted piece by piece over the decades. I found the door to the back stair, and was waiting for the guys, when he walked up. It was that asshole from the park, Buck - no, Ambrose.
He smirked at me, a very illegal can of beer in his hand. "Well, well, well - fancy running into you here!" He took a slurp from his beer, and wedged me between himself and the wall. "And no pansy boyfriend to go hiding behind now."
"Listen up, Buck, this is not the time to get into this-"
"It sure as fuck is, sweetcheeks." He ran a hand over my thigh, and I felt my skin crawl.
Then we heard Griff's voice behind him. "Y'know, Ambrose, this is getting to be a habit." And there was Griff, with his three buddies at his back.
I had a 'My Hero!' moment, and said quietly to Buck, "Listen up, Ambrose, the only reason I don't let them take you outside and ram that can up yer ass it that Paris is on a short leash with this party. So, why don't you take your oh-so-bad-boy single can of beer that you swiped from your daddy's fridge, and take it somewhere where they'll actually be impressed by it? I hear that the Elementary School is holding a play - why don't you try it out there?"
Buck pulled back the arm that he'd kept me pinned against the wall with, mustered up all the dignity he could, and sauntered out the back door.
"Asshole," I muttered after him, and gestured the guys up the stairs.
On the second floor, I spotted Della just as she pulled her head in a door. That must be where the party was. I got us past Della with a few words that we were here to help.
There, chained to the post on Paris' bed, wearing nothing below the belt but his boxers and shoes, was my ol' buddy Benny. I turned to Griff and jerked a thumb at Benny. "You know 'im?"
Griff shrugged. "I think I've seen him around. I don't think he goes to Tolbathy."
Della piped up, "I met him a couple of days ago, his name is Ben. He says he goes to Protheroe. He said that Paris invited him, but she says she's never seen him before."
Benny just sat there, torn between being angry at being tricked by a couple of Goonie girls, and being embarrassed at being seen by a bunch of strangers in his drawers. "Oh, c'mon!" he whined, "get me outta this thing, before her father gets up here!"
I turned to Della. "Della, go find that Priss bitch, and get his pants back. Even if we do manage to get him out of those cuffs, it won't do us any good if we have to get him down the stairs without his pants. Even at a blow-out like this, somebody would notice!"
Della made a sad face, and shook her head. "No good. If I know Priss, she chucked those things, the first thing she did."
The guys looked at the handcuff on Benny's wrist. They tried slipping his hand out, but it was no go. Stew thought the post might be the kind where the knob on the top screws off, but it just rotated without coming off.
Griff looked at the 'cuffs for a long while. Then he said, half to himself, "If Priss is the wiseass she's supposed to be, she wouldn't let herself get in a situation where she couldn't talk her way out of it by saying 'he could have gotten out any time he wanted to'. Or something like that. I'll bet these are those trick magician's handcuffs." He felt around the cuff. "There should be a trick catch here somewhere-"
And the bar of the handcuff on the bedpost swung open.
"Voila!" Griff made stage magician gestures. Obviously - and with good reason - very pleased with himself. I gave him a kiss on the cheek as a reward.
But the problem of how to get Benny out still remained. Benny looked out Paris' window, but it was too high, and there was no convenient trellis or tree branch to climb. Looking at Benny with his skinny legs showing, a really nasty idea came to me.
"Della, have you stayed over here?"
"Yeah, a couple of times. And I visit often enough."
"Good. Griff, you and the other guys go out in the hall, and make out like you're waiting to use the upstairs bathroom. Let us know if anyone is coming. Be- Bozo, YOU stay HERE. I have an idea."
Five minutes - and a lot of whining and complaining - later, Della and I had Benny done up in a skirt, bulky sweater and shaggy blonde wig that Della assured me Paris wouldn't miss. We didn't bother with makeup, 'cause there was no way that Benny would pass if anyone got a good look at him, anyway. We just wanted something good enough to fool a fleeting glimpse, which was all we were gonna give anyone. Down the back stair, through the kitchen, to the back door and out of our hair, where Benny would be on his own.
We were about to effect Benny's Great Escape, when we heard something in the hallway. "Mister Curtis, what are you doing up here?" Mister Ashbroom said in his best disapproving Headmaster's voice.
To his credit, Lex didn't seem too intimidated. "Hey, Mr. A! Jus' doin' what everybody does at a party, sooner or later! Waitin' for the plumbin' to open up!" He thumped the bathroom door a couple of times. "C'mon! What are you doing in there?"
"And what are they doing? Keeping you company?"
Stew piped in, "No, just asking the same da- darned question! C'mon! Hurry Up!" Somehow, I don't think that Stew's comment was aimed at whoever was using the john.
Mister Ashbroom muttered aloud, "I don't have time for this childishness!" And he strode purposefully toward Paris' room, and pounded on the door. "Paris! Open up!"
I opened the door a crack. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ashbroom, but Paris isn't in here right now. If you'll excuse me, we have a bit of a crisis on our hands here."
He glowered through the crack in the door at me. "I have been informed that against my explicit orders, that Paris has let a boy into her room. I intend to see for myself!"
I smiled up at him. "Believe me, Mr. Ashbroom, you can trust your daughter - I give you my word that she did NOT let any boy into her room tonight."
"My - informant - tells me that not only is there a boy in there, but he has no clothes on! Do you have a boy in there with you, young lady?"
I glared steely glares right into his eyes. "_SIR_, what kind of girl do you take me for?" I opened the door, all the way, and Della and I 'helped' Benny out. Benny was bent over, with his face hidden so he could make it without being obvious. I turned around, and said icily, "Go ahead and look - but I can tell you that there are _NO_ boys in that room now!"
He looked down at Benny, hung between Della and me. "What's the matter with her?"
"Ah- Female troubles." Well, what would you call being sandbagged by two girls like that? "She really shouldn't have come tonight."
Della and I hauled Benny over to the back stair as Mr. Ashbroom went into Paris' room to make absolutely sure. Just as we were at the bottom of the stairs, a flash of light went off. April and Priss were there with a Polaroid camera, and a snapshot was coming out of the front.
Shit! This could not only blow Benny and Paris out of the water, but me, too! From everything that I've heard, Glamour only photographs in fashion magazines! That snapshot should show two boys in girl's clothes! Benny would have an explanation - an embarrassing explanation, but still a rational explanation - but I was cold meat if anybody got a look at it!
Benny beat April to the kitchen door and blocked it. Della covered the back door, and I advanced on Priss. Priss grabbed the photo and tossed the camera at me. Reflexively, I caught the camera and let Priss get by me. She barreled past Della, and was out the back door.
Cursing none too quietly under my breath, I took after her. I could make out Priss' blonde hair in the gathering dark. She was a least twenty yards ahead of me. I had been a busy little witch that evening, what with all the tweaking and prodding and dancing I'd been doing. I was more than a little beat. But, I dug down deep, and put Wings Unto My Feet. This is a technique that witches have used for centuries, mostly to get away from over-eager witch hunters. A burst of speed filled me, and I closed the gap between us as she rounded a hedge with a giggle.
I rounded the corner of the hedge, and almost ran smack dab into Buck and his two buddies. What, is everyone I don't like lining up to get in my way tonight? Am I gonna run into Cole Pesloe and his buddies next? Buck had found another beer somewhere, and was hanging out. He saw me coming, and got ready to start up with me again. As he stepped in my path, I shouted, "GET OUTTA MY WAY, LOSER!" and straight-armed him to the ground without breaking my stride.
Priss was making for the main building of the school, and tried to put another hedge between us. The Wings Unto My Feet technique, besides running, is also used in a lot of rituals that involve jumping high into the air, often carrying a broom. This is the basis of the 'witch flying a broom' image that so many people have. I used it to jump over the hedge and get ahead of Priss. She plowed right into me. She wasn't expecting it, but I was, so I managed to throw her to the ground.
Almost out of breath, I gasped at her, "Okay, Bitch, gimme the picture."
She clasped it to her breast. "Fuck You!"
"Give it to me, or I'll kick-" I looked at my clunky platform shoes. They had not been built for heavy running, and only the fact that my magic was doing most of the real work had kept them from completely falling apart. "Look at my shoes! They're ruined!"
NOW she was scared, and she quickly handed me the snapshot. "It was just a joke," she said in a small voice.
As I limped back to the party on my ruined platforms, I started to rip up the snapshot. As I took it in both hands, I got a good look at it. It showed Della, and Benny in his half-assed drag, and - ME. Not 'Dan' in drag, but Me, the pretty fifteen-year-old girl. The positioning was all wrong, and the lighting was horrible, but I looked pretty damn good! But why would the Glamour show on a cheap Polaroid print? I pondered that the rest of the way back.
I was so flushed with victory that I forgot about Buck and his buddies - but when I got back to where they'd been, they were gone, and Griff and his crew were there, looking like they'd been in a fight.
I came up to them. "Hey, Guys! What happened?"
Stew looked up, the flush of victory on his face. "That guy came running after you, and ran into Buck and his pals. They started pounding on him, and we stepped in to, ah, keep the peace. Can't have a bunch of hoodlums like them upsetting Paris' party, now can we?"
I bit my lower lip. "I think I honked them off when I blew past them chasing after Priss. Sorry!"
Lex gave a gasp, "Not to worry. That's been coming down the road for a while. Did you get the photo?"
I held up the Polaroid. "Not to worry."
Griff took me in his arms and gave me a big hug.
I looked around for Benny. "Where's the bozo in the dress?"
Griff shrugged, "He took off as soon as we got Buck and his 'homies' off him."
Then we went in to kill the last hour or so of the party. When Paris heard what I'd done, she loaned me a pair of low-heeled pumps in my size to replace my trashed platforms. She even let me keep the Polaroid, on the condition that it never surface around Durward.
When 9:45, my departure time, rolled around, Griff and I were dancing to something that called for slow, close dancing. At least, I think the music called for slow dancing. Who cares?
Griff walked me from Paris' house to the trolley stop. As the streetcar pulled up, I leaned forward to give him a peck on the cheek. He intercepted my face with both his hands and held it. He leaned in and kissed me. He kissed me. It's such a simple three words. Hell, he leaned in and set my lips afire! The blaze swept through every inch of my body, and knocked my brain off-line. I made a little squeak, and melted into the power and majesty of the kiss. We stood there, until the trolley bell impatiently clanged us out of our stupor. I looked at Griff, and Griff looked at me, and there was a kind of 'what the hell was that?' thing going. He hadn't expected it to be that powerful any more than I did.
The trolley conductor said, "Well, kids, are you gonna get on, or not?"
In a daze, I got on the car and paid my fare. As the car lurched forward, I gave Griff a little wave good-bye. I watched him walk off, not seeming to feel the pavement under his feet. Geez, I hope he didn't walk into anything!
When I got home (yes, I remembered to change clothes! It wasn't that good a kiss - barely), I was fifteen minutes late. I could have snuck upstairs without the parental units hearing me, but I decided that fortune favors the bold. I marched into the living room, where Mom and Dad were on the couch, watching- a soap commercial?
"Mom, Dad, I know I'm a little late, but I have a very good reason..." I dredged up the details of Mr. Ashbroom's one-sided conversation. "I was at the party, and I just happened to overhear Mr. Ashbroom - he's the Headmaster over at Durward Academy..."
Mom was so busy mulling over the ramifications of what I'd overheard - and Dad was eager to get back to 'watching the soap commerical' that it slipped their mind to lower a boom of any kind. Knowing to quit while I was ahead, I got straight to bed. I fell right to sleep, and dreamed. I don't remember exactly what I dreamed about, but I know it involved fields of wildflowers, and acres of red satin, a unicorn, and a fire that started at my lips and swept all through my body.
Sunday was church, and then my Role-Playing Game group, as usual. The nice thing about gaming with College guys is that they know nothing about the Fool's Cap, and couldn't care less if they did. I was tempted to blow off the game and go looking for Griff, but I decided that it would be wisest to keep a level head about this. Anything as powerful as that kiss MUST be respected and feared. Even so, I kept thinking about it as we stormed the castle of the Liche King.
Monday morning rolled around, as it always does. I avoided the smog-bleching chamber of horrors that the School Board uses for a bus by riding my bike to school. It's an extra half hour, but worth every straining pedal. The razzing started all over again, like nothing had happened Saturday. And, for most of the kids at Horace Mann, nothing had.
At lunch, I overheard Benny talking about the wild Durward party that he'd been to Saturday night. Through the power of creative fiction and willful adolescent reality adjustment, he managed to turn being handcuffed without his pants to a bedpost, into being dragged into a girl's bedroom, having his pants torn off his legs and jumping out the window when her father stormed into the room. The other guys tried to pump him for details, but the class bell rang and the gang split up for their classes.
In the hallway, I caught him alone. "Hey, Benny-"
He looked at me like I just pissed on the flag. "What do you want, Dork?"
I just smiled at the insult. I said, "Be very careful what you say, Styles - it may come back to haunt you," and handed him a xeroxed copy of the Polaroid. The quality wasn't very good, but you could make out Benny - in a dress and wig - clear as day.
"How the fuck did you get your hands on this?"
I smiled viciously. "I was out by Durward Academy Saturday night. I heard that there was this kickin' party goin' down. And there were these two blonde girls chasing each other in the dark, and, ah, well, I managed to get this in all the confusion."
Benny went pale as a sheet and started to hyperventilate. "What do you want? C'maaawnnnnn, we're best friends!"
"Yeah, as long as it suits you. Nope, I don't want anything from you, Benjie. Friends like you, I can do without." All too true, I realized as the words came out of my mouth. I'd barely known Paris a week, and Della just for a night, but I'd trust either of them before I'd trust Benny again. And Griff? Leave that alone, it's too confusing. I tore up the xerox. "But, just remember, that I have the original in a safe place. So, back off!"
It occurred to me as I walked to my Science class that I could have used that Polaroid to squeeze Benny but good. But, I'd already gotten my revenge. Time to leave revenge and Benny in the past. Indeed, by not raking him over the coals, I'd even managed to get the absolute best kind of revenge - Benny knew that I could have ruined him, and didn't. Living well isn't the Best Revenge; Proving that you're better than the people who dump on you, IS.