Jordan Winters 4
By Bek D Corbin
Edited by Steve Zink
My Cause is Just and my Vision is True. I know what I must do, and I am equal to the task. The enemy is formidable, but they WILL fall. My motto: All Zits Must Die!
And why, you ask, am I suddenly so amped up against facial blemishes? Well, one of the things that I love about being able to go out as a girl, cunningly disguised by a Glamour, is the fact that as a girl, I have an absolutely perfect peaches-and-cream complexion.
Or, at least I _did_.
Then, last Saturday, while I was hanging with Jazz at the record store - why is it that the boy band Flying Bison suddenly looks good to me? - when it happened. When I checked myself in the mirror to see if my hair was okay, my skin was utterly flawless. But a few minutes later, I was passing by a mirrored column and I spotted this big red Volcano on my chin! I knew that I had a zit there, but now the damn thing was poking through the Glamour like a knife!
It shouldn't be able to do that.
So anyway, since then, I've been on the warpath with my skin. I have tried everything! I've scrubbed my face raw, but nothing gets rid of that damn bubo on my chin! I was trying a rather radical approach - a salt scrub, (do NOT try this!) when Mom caught me at it. "What are you doing?"
"I am _sick _and _tired_ of this stupid acne! I've tried everything, and it won't go away!"
"Honey, nobody likes having acne. But why are so suddenly up in arms about it?"
<Grrrr> "There is something unnatural about this! Especially this one right here." I pointed at the offensive travesty of nature.
Mom gave it a good long squint with her Good Eye. "Hhhhmmm... I don't see - hold the phone! You're right! That thing isn't natural."
Part of me was relieved that I was right and Mom admitted it. Another part of me had been hoping against hope that it was perfectly normal, and Mom knew how to get rid of the damn thing.
Mom gave me a hard look. "That zit is definitely charged with glamour. Now, Dan - that shouldn't happen. The only thing that I can think of is that that your system is trying to balance itself out. Have you been using glamour to suppress your acne?"
"Uhm, yeah, something like that."
"You have to remember that using a glamour isn't just a matter of creating an illusion - you're making a statement of how the world is."
"You're getting a little Zen there, Mom."
"Maybe, but it's still true! You're making a statement that things are one way, no matter what anyone else says. And whenever there's more than one party involved, there has to be some kind of agreement. You created a context that said that you had no infected pores. Unfortunately, the bacteria infecting those pores say otherwise. If you aren't careful, that can put a lot of stress on your system. Y'see, your body has to deal with injuries and infections, one way or another. What I think happend was that when you hid your acne without actually curing it, you forced your body to cope with the infection in another way. I think that it did this by concentrating the disruptive effect of the infection in one place - that zit. If you aren't careful, that zit could really fester and cause some nasty scarring."
"So, I have to let my complexion deal with the acne on it's own terms?"
"It's usually best to let these things run their course naturally."
Yuck. This could really screw me over in terms of my social life as 'Jordan'. "How about this? What if I created a glamour of my having really horrific acne? Wouldn't that spread out the disruption, breaking up the power of the infection?"
"Allowing your system to deal with lots of small infections instead of one really big one? Yes, it could work. But I would specify that you had lots of mildly infected zits, instead of lots of bady infected ones. If you said that you had lots of badly infected ones, you'd only wind up encouraging that da-silly things, and you'd have a really bad case for real."
Well, I could do that during school and at home - it's not like being a pizza face was gonna screw over my social standing any. And if I only hide in for a few hours as 'Jordan', I can hide the zit under a medicated pad or something.
Little brothers Brett and Trey were in rare annoying little brother form when I came downstairs in my experimental 'pizza lite' face - "Can I connect the dots?" "There's a message in those, if only we knew how to read them!" "Can I have his french fries?" "D'you want some extra cheese on your face?" And so on. Actually, I should have thanked them - it was good practice for school.
If you look really hard, you can find a good side to almost anything. By giving Cole Pesloe and his backup singers something to rag on me for, they didn't feel the need to get physical. Heck, they didn't even stuff me in a locker - after all, how could they ridicule me, if I weren't around?
Even Mr. Tarkington, the Science Teacher, climbed on the bandwagon, and used me as an example of what can happen with an imbalanced diet. But it backfired on him - Mom insists on as healthy and balanced a diet as possible. He shut up real quick when I started answering his snarky questions about my breakfast. Hey, get your victories wherever you can find them, I always say!
As always, it was a relief to get out of school. Not only was I out of school, out from under the spite of all the others, and the usual, but I could drop that stupid pizza-face Seeming. Not only was it ugly, it itched like the devil.
When I dropped it and checked my face out in a mirror, the normal zits that I had did look a little better, and the big buboe wasn't quite the oozing horror that it'd been. I thought that I could risk a few hours blissfully zit-free.
The problem with having two sets of clothing is that you either try to be clever to make it look like you aren't wearing the same outfit all the time, or you break yourself buying new ones. I was shopping around the second hand stores that all college towns are blessed with (Smart Shoppers' Tip #347: always ask the most stylin' coeds that you run into where they sell their clothes - not where they buy their clothes, where they sell them!). I was trying to decide whether or not to delve further into my college fund and buy this really cute black pleatherette blazer, when Paris and Della walked in. We did the 'Hi' thing, and I noticed that Paris was casting covetous eyes at my pleatherette blazer.
"Ooohhh, that is so CUTE! Are you going to buy it, or can I try it on?"
I had an irrational surge of possessiveness, and then handed it over. Paris tried it on. Not bad, but it was just made for a blonde like me.
"Oh, don't worry - if I buy it, I'll let you borrow it sometime."
It suddenly occurred to me that I had a resource at my fingertips that would widen my potential wardrobe exponentially, without costing me a penny! Besides Paris, Della and the rest of the Parisettes, Mindy, Rebecca and Lindsay, all had closets! Paris, Della, and Rebecca were even my size, more or less. And if Jazz was my size (gotta remember to check next time), that opens it even wider! A little quid pro quo with my own girl-clothes, and I was stylin'!
Unfortunately, there was the complication that Paris and company would want to see what was in MY closet, which would require that they visit my home, which would raise more questions than a bag of white powder at a PTA meeting.
Okay, think, think, think, Winters!
Oh well, when in doubt, blame the 'rents. "Gee, I'd love that, Paris! But then I gotta let you borrow my stuff, and the Mom wouldn't like it."
"Why? She doesn't actually expect you to go around wearing only the stuff from your own closet, now does she?"
"Yeah, well, you know how it is - I got younger brothers, I'm having problems at school (the Vice-Principal hates me) and then there's the whole puberty thing."
"You bear up under the travail admirably."
Della tried on the jacket. Not bad. "Hey, Paris, are you really gonna buy this?"
<sigh> "No, not really. If I brought that home, Daddy would be all over me, moaning about how little a Headmaster really gets paid."
"How about you, Jordan?"
"Nope. I'm way over my clothing allowance, and I've dipped into my college fund so much that pretty soon it'll be a High School fund."
"But you want this jacket, don't you?"
I made pathetic puppy sounds.
"Tell you what - I'll buy this, and you can borrow it any time you want. IF you do me a little favor."
"That sounds suspiciously reasonable. What's the favor?"
"Weeellll...I sort of have kind of a date with Stew..."
"And, that asshole Buck Washburne has kind of decided that I am 'his woman'." Della crossed her arms and grimaced in imitation of an affluent white boy's intimation of a Gangsta Rapper hardass.
"'Buck Washburne's woman'. Your mother would be so proud. And what do you want me to do about it? I mean, why don't you get the Durward School rugby team to take him out behind the gym and read him his rights?"
"'Cause I don't want to go there unless I absolutely have to. Jordan, I have you pegged as the kind of girl who could make Buck jump through hoops if she put her mind to it-"
"Della, Sigfried and Roy would have a hard time getting Buck to do much more than keep from scratching his crotch in front of the Pope!"
"Jordan, all I want you to do is keep Buck away from the East entry to the Mall and out of the Tivoli theatre."
Oh HO! The Tivoli is the local mall's cineplex, and theatre number 4 has two little sections way in the back that see use as the local 'passion pit'. "Oh? You and Stew gonna go see Lord Stengo's Honor?" 'Lord Stengo's Honor' was, if you hadn't guessed, the pot-boiler playing at Theatre #4.
"It's an important work of historical significance."
"AND there are lots of really dark scenes, I hear."
"Tell you what - I lead Buck around by the nose for a couple of hours, and you open up your entire closet to me. I'll take snapshots of what I have, so that you'll know what I've got to offer in return. _And_ we bring Jazz in on it."
"Hey, Dell, have you ever heard of a Gangsta-wannabe whiteboy who didn't have a jones to get next to a slammin' Sistah? Between the two of us, we won't just give Buckeroo the runaround, we'll have him panting for breath by the end of the afternoon!"
"'Kay, but Jazz has gotta come up with some quid pro quo of her own!"
"Quid Pro Quo? Jeez, you planning to become a lawyer or sumthin'?"
"If I'm gonna open my closet to Jazz, I'm just gonna want something in return."
"Well, she does have killer taste. You'll have to thrash that out with her. Ennyhoo, when is this _big date_ going down?"
"Well, it's a do for me, but I can't see why you can't just avoid him. I mean, you aren't obliged to tell him where you're going and how you're spending your time."
"True, but somehow, Buck as a way of keeping tabs on me."
<Hmmm...> "Della, you could just tell Headmaster Ashbroom that this guy is bothering you, and have him lean on the little pinhead." Della gave me the 'Are you braindead? That would involved Adults!' look. "Oh. Right. My Bad."
That settled, Della paid for the pleatherette jacket, and I went in search of Jazz. One of these days, I have got to remember to get her to give me her phone number. No, then I'd have to give her MY number in return, and that's just not a good idea. Maybe a pager number.
Instead, I ran into JayDee. He was slouching down Kitteridge street in a knit beanie, oversized nylon jacket with a Boston Red Sox logo and a pair of jeans that looked like they were belted around his knees. "Hey! JayDee! Wait up!"
"Yo, Blondie! Wha'choo want?"
"'Yo, Blondie'?" I asked him, not really believing it. "What's with that? And what's up with the 'MTV Raps' ensemble?"
"Yo, yo, yo, YO! I'm jus' gettin' in touch wi' mah MANLY side! You got a PRAH-blem wi' that, Woman?" As he spoke, he waved his arms around and then leaned back, his arms crossed defiantly.
Oh, this is just pathetic! I mean, Buck Washburne does a better 'Gangsta' impersonation than JayDee does! At least Ambrose has some bulk and real nastiness to back him up. JayDee was just a nice kid from a nice town who was tired of being dismissed as being 'nice'. Unfortunately for him, he lacks the heft to really pull it off.
I smiled. "Oh, no, no problem, no problem at all. As a matter of fact, I was wondering what you were doing this Saturday afternoon?"
"Ohh, nuthin'. Jus' hangin', y'know. Stayin' cool."
"Well, the thing is, I'm trying to get something together at the Mall Saturday afternoon."
"The MALL? Don't you have anything better t'do, Woman, than be hangin' around a fuckin' MALL, spendin' money?"
"As a matter of fact, I'm trying to get in touch with a friend I met recently, a girl named Jazz-"
"Yeah, I heerd about her frum m'man Lex. S'pozed t'be a Stone Cold FOX!"
"Good, good! Y'see, Buck Washburne has been giving Della and Stew some problems. It seems that he's declared Della his 'property'-"
"I oughta shove a BOOT up his BUTT!"
"That won't be neccessary. Anyway, Della asked me to keep Buck busy while she and Stew went to the movies. She didn't want any scenes, and thought that I might be able to handle him without him getting wise to it."
"She oughta come to ME and my boyz! We'll-"
"That won't be neccessary, thank you very much! Anyway, I'm gonna ask Jazz to help me out leading Buck down the garden path for an hour or so-"
"Wha'cha gonna DO to him, Blondie?"
I grinned nastily. "You leave that to us girls, Mad Dog. Thing is, once we've dumped the chump, I was thinking about catching a movie with Griff. And I don't want to leave Jazz out in the cold, and you know what they say - 'Two's Company'...."
"I thought that was an old TV show with Suzanne Sommers."
"Whatever. I was thinking that M'lady Jasmine might appreciate a little male company at the movies. A double date, y'know?"
JayDee looked at me warily. "The lady know about this?"
"I haven't seen her yet. For that matter, I haven't seen Griff around, either."
"He's over at Lex's place tryin' to beat Grand Theft Auto: Vice City."
Oh Wise Ones, blessed and bright, it's fucking contagious! "If you see him before I do, let him know that I'm looking for him? Anyway, I've gotta find Jazz and pitch this to her. So - you interested?"
JayDee shrugged with his entire jacket. "I gotta SEE her first. Can't say that I kin depend on your taste-"
<Tscha!> "Hey! If you are too COOL to hang with my friend Jazz, then you can just stand around being cool all by yourself!" I turned to leave.
"Hey, hey, hey! Who said anything about not goin'? I just didn't wanna make any commitments, y'know?"
I licked the inside of my mouth and looked at him. Well, maybe he already knows that he's making a fool of himself, and will straighten out by Saturday. "Okay. Saturday afternoon. Just outside the Tivoli, first matinee. I still gotta find Jazz and get this all straight with her. If anything comes up before I see you again, I'll tell Lex, Stew or Griff to pass it along. We cool?"
"Hey, I'm always cool Bay-bay!" With that, he strutted off. Wise Ones, please let this be a phase and let it be short!
Rationalizing that she might give JayDee something better to do than exercise his obnoxious muscles, I went looking for Jazz. Almost an hour later, I had just about given up, and was heading over to where my bike was chained up and go home, when I heard Jazz calling my name.
I waved her over. "Hey! How come there's never a gorgeous African American girl around when you really NEED one?"
"Hey, I might say the same thing about YOU, oh melanin deprived one! I've been looking all over! We gotta set up some way of gettin' together! What's your digits?"
"Jazz, I'd love to give 'em to you, but let's just say that it would cause problems." Jazz raised her eyebrows, and a hard line crossed her mouth. "No, it's not about you, it's about ME. If I started getting phone calls from anybody, it would cause problems, and I probably wouldn't be able to get out at all."
"Poor baby! I know how you feel! I gotta pull some major ninjaosity just to hang. So, what are we gonna do? A girl's gotta have a little hang time with her friends, or she starts doin' weird stuff like doing extra credit homework!"
I made a sign against Evil. "So, what are we gonna do? Hold on! Do you have your own web page? One for you, and not just your family?"
"Sorta. I got one, but I haven't really done anything with it, y'know?"
"Ditto. How about this? My address is wmw,jorwinLXXXVIII.con. If you need to get in touch with me, send me an e-mail there."
"Cool. My address is wmw.jinxkat.con. But that means that I gotta go home in order to check my e-mail to see if I gotta go and meet with you. How about something simpler?"
"'Kay, how's about this? If we wanna meet, what say we stop in front of the library at 4 o'clock straight up? We wait fifteen minutes or so, and if the other's busy, we just move on. And, if the 'rents ask us where we're headed, we can say with perfect honesty that we're going to the library."
Jazz nodded. "So, in the meantime, whaddya wanna do?"
I held up my watch. "Too late! Gotta go home and help with dinner. But, what are you doing Saturday afternoon?"
"You got something planned?" I outlined my agreement with Della. "This must be a kickass jacket!"
"It is! But, hey, you like Della, don't you?" Jazz nodded, grudgingly. "And believe me, this guy Buck Washburne has coming to him anything and everything we can throw at him, and then some!"
"Ooohhh! Can I bring my rocket launcher?"
"Of course! And don't forget the extra rounds!"
Jazz crossed her arms and cocked an eyebrow at me. "And is that ALL?" I gave her the Look of Wounded Innocence. "Don't give me that look of wounded innocence! Are you planning to hook me up with that DeeJay guy again?"
"Well, you DID say that you'd give him a try!"
<gusty sigh> "Yeah, I did, didn't I?" She gave me a skeptical look. "He isn't one of those bullshit 'suburban Gangsta' types, is he? 'Cause I had enough of that crap back in Chicago to last me a lifetime! If I hook up with a guy, I want a guy who isn't afraid to have brains and some actual class! And knowing how to treat a lady _like_ a lady is a definite plus."
Oh crap. She's almost writing a thumbnail sketch of Lex. It also fits JayDee, or it would if he shucked the Hip-hop crap. Or at least picked up the classier parts of Hip-hop, instead of just the Gangsta shit. "Oh, I wouldn't call JayDee a Gangsta." HE might, but _I_ wouldn't. "If anything, he's a real sweetheart." Which he is, under all the attitude.
Jazz gave a shrug and a rueful smile. "Well, even if he's a total loser, ragging on this Buck guy oughta be cool way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Count me in!"
I gave her a sisterly hug and we talked as we walked to where my bike was chained. Y'know, I don't even remember what we talked about? I LOVE just nattering away like that!
Competence is vastly over-rated. While most guys my age are bending over backwards trying to be taken seriously, I've found that it's better to be creatively incompetent. If your parents think that you're capable of handling serious chores, they'll load you down with serious chores. For instance, a couple of years ago, I noodged my parents into letting me babysit those two blights on my personal landscape, little brother Trey and littler brother Brett. When they got back, the place was in such a state that I've never had to worry about getting stuck with Butch and Sundance since.
Of course, nobody wants to be thought of as a complete loss, so I bite the bullet and routinely take on the chores of cleaning the bathroom and washing the dishes. Not in that order, of course. I find that nobody, and I DO mean nobody, wants to wash the dishes or clean the bathroom for some reason. Personally, I don't mind that much. But, if I'm slated to do the dishes or the toilet, then nobody expects me to weed or mop, both jobs that I personally hate.
Clever, No? Unfortunately, when I screw myself over the worst, it's usually when I think that I'm being clever.
It was Saturday morning, and I'd forsaken the 'toons in order to get all my chores out of the way. I was on my up into the attic to see what I could find for my covert operation with Jazz. I wondered if ol' Buckeroo would pick up on it, if I wore Spy Mission blacks. Nah - Buck would miss a truck rolling over his foot, as long as it didn't have a poster of a bikini girl on the side. Besides, basic black looks fabulous on blondes.
Then, the first trump of Doom: "Dan?"
"Something's come up, and your Father and I have to head over to Wooster. I'm going to need you to keep an eye on your brothers."
Oh _shit_. "Uhm, MOM, Trey's a big boy now! He doesn't really need a babysitter anymore!" Trey gave me a strange look, not trusting this sudden and unexpected show of fraternal confidence and support.
"You're right, dear. But Brett is only Five, and if you're going to have to watch Frick, you might as well watch Frack."
"Ah, Mom, I have plans for today! I can't give you any specifics, but a young lady is depending on me." Mom raised her eyebrows. "No, not like that! This girl I met, her boyfriend is one of my new friends. There's this other guy who's a ten-ton jerk, and he thinks that she's HIS girlfriend, no matter what she says. I've-"
"Dan, I don't have time for the Dawson's Creek update!"
"I'm covering for a friend, okay?"
"And is there anything that says that you can't watch your brothers while you cover for this friend, whom I notice that you haven't bothered to tell me about, let alone tell me his name, where he lives, where he goes to school or any other pertinents?"
"His name is Stew, her name is Della, he goes to Tolbathy, she goes to Ashbroom. I dunno where the jerk goes."
"That will do for now." Short form - I got stuck with the rug rats. Even with the hex that I placed on Trey the Treacherous, this is gonna be tricky. First of all, I can't just wear one set of clothes out the door and change later this time. Maybe if I wear my girl outfit under the boy clothes, I can shuck the outer layer when I get to the Mall and put the guy stuff in a backpack. But that means that the stuff underneath is gonna have to be pretty thin, or I'll fry on my way there. OR, the stuff I wear overall is really baggy. Now that's a bit more workable. I have some stuff that the Mom bought on sale, expecting me to grow into them. No, my parents are _not_ cheap - they're just two Civil Servants, raising three kids. Think about it.
I finally chose a white polo shirt and a short denim skirt. Warm enough for May, but light enough to fit under the denim jacket, flannel shirt and jeans that I'd be wearing over them. And under all that, panties and empty bra, with breast forms in the backpack. Man, layers and layers. As for the sneaks, I'd have to risk it.
Now, for part two of my evil plan. Mom and Dad were still getting ready, so I made my approach. "Hey, Dad-" Remember, when you are trying to pull something, always go for the Dad. "-since I gotta take Thing One and Thing Two with me, would it be all right if I bought off their good behavior with a movie?"
He shrugged bruskly. "That depends. What's playing? I don't want your little brother having nightmares because he saw The Corpse Danced At Midnight."
"Not to worry, Parental Unit! The Fuzzy Wuzzy Muzzy Movie is playing at a unit clear on the other side of the CinePlex."
"Oh well, I suppose it's for the best."
"Kewl! Now, I'm gonna need fiscal wherewithall to finance the tickets, popcorn, soda and like that..."
<martyred sigh> "Why did I have a feeling that you were leading up to something like this?"
"An unfortunate cynical streak?" Anyway, Dad handed over the filthy lucre, and gave the munchkins the 'obey your brother' speech. Like they really listened. Or would remember even if they did listen.
Dad drove us to the Mall with the bikes in the back, so that we could get home by ourselves. Now the Old Mill Mall is pretty much a Local hangout. Tourists and College kids shop the picturesque stores in Old Town, but the people who actually live here want that touch of 'big city sophistication' that they associate with your basic suburban mall. Hey, don't look at me like that - _I_ didn't come up with it. And lacking a degree in Marketing, I can't explain it, either.
The Old Mill Mall wasn't really a mill, but it had something to do with the old woolen mills, and it did have a waterwheel as a part of it, so they stuck that name on it. It's a big old 'El'-shaped brick building, with three levels. There's a 'historic' doo-job where they have a thick pexiglass sheet that shows of the working parts of the waterwheel turning, but the rest of the place is your basic retail outlet.
Once the Dad had driven off, I herded Trey and Brett toward the theater. Looking up at the marquis, I asked them, "So, whaddaya want to see?"
Trey glowered up at me. "You told Dad that we was gonna go see the Fuzzy Wuzzy Muzzy Movie." Then he glanced around quickly, to make sure that none of his buddies were there to see his shame.
I beamed down at those who had ruined my blissful existence as an only child. "_No_, little brother, what I told Dad was that the Fuzzy Wuzzy Muzzy Movie was playing here, at a theater clear across the cineplex from the Corpse Danced At Midnight. All that means is that you can't go see a cheesey horror flick that will give little Brett nightmares, 'cause Dad specifically said that he didn't want that. I never came out and said that any of us were gonna sit through a movie about an oversized dust mop pitching good citizenship. So, what do you want to go see?"
Trey looked up at me with - Dear Ghod! - a touch of respect, and nodded as he wrapped his head around the concept. "Okay, how about Justiciar II: Ransack Strikes Back!?"
I nodded in agreement. "Not Bad! I might even drop in and catch the end of it."
"Drop in? You're supposed to be watching us!"
"I have some business here to take care of first. Now, Trey, I'm gonna have to ask you to keep an eye on Brett while you watch the movie."
"And why should I do that? YOU"RE the one who's supposed to be watching us! It's no skin off of MY ass if Bratt goes wandering off and get et by wolves."
"Five Bucks." Trey bargained me up to ten. Sucker. I would have gone up to twenty. "Remember, part of that money is paying for your silence. As long as nothing goes wrong, there's no need to involve Mom or Dad."
I paid him off, and we went up to the ticket window. "Two Children's tickets for the Fuzzy Wuzzy Muzzy Movie."
"WHAT?" Chorused up from below.
I pulled them over to the side. "Guys, Fuzzy Wuzzy Muzzy is in the theater right next to the Justiciar movie, and it starts five minutes before Justiciar. All you gotta do is go into the theater where Justiciar is playing with a group of other kids. This Way, if Mom or Dad ask to see the tickets - which you know they're gonna do - you can show them Fuzzy Wuzzy Muzzy stubs. Remember to keep the stubs."
Brett piped, "What if they ask us what the movie was like?"
"Brett, it's Fuzzy Wuzzy Muzzy - what do you THINK it's going to be like? If they ask, just go on and on, and don't make any sense - it's not like either Mom or Dad would ever go see that thing for themselves." I handed Trey the snackage cash - "Remember, Trey, Brett gets a fair share of this. And don't buy him any Jujubees - he loves 'em, but they don't like him."
Trey gave me a calculating look. "Well GEE, Dan, that's a lot to remember! And I can't help but wonder what Mom and Dad would say if they knew that you sluffing Bratt here off on a poor, underpaid ten-year-old..." He stretched out his grubby paw for more. Never underestimate the connivance of a middle child.
"Trey, I already paid you for that."
"Nowhere near enough."
I crossed my arms and gave the little weasel a superior smile.
Trey held his ground. "Dan, if Mom and Dad find out about this, they're gonna ground you for a MONTH!"
I grinned evilly. "It'll be worth it."
"Ditching us is worth a month of House Arrest?"
"No, but losing the Fool's Cap is."
"Listen up, El Finkito - when you took that money from me, we entered into a contract. And, while you aren't a practicing sorcerer yet, you ARE of The Blood, and I _am_ a practicing sorcerer. Trey, NO ONE breaks a Sorcerer's Contract. If you break a Sorcerer's Contract, then all of their sins are on your head. And, while I don't have that many sins to worry about, there IS something else."
I reached up and mimed lifting the Fool's Cap off of my head and placing it on Trey's head. He swatted my hands away from his head. "Don't DO that!"
I grinned down at him. "Well, then - you took the money, so stay bought."
Carefully ignoring the ethical paradox of telling two kids to go theater-hopping to see a movie about Truth, Justice, and Decency, I sent them on their way. Well, so much for that! I gave a quick lookabout for anyone I knew - as Dan OR as Jordan - until I was sure that I wasn't being watched. Then I did a 'Clark Kent' and ducked around a few corners until I made my way to the Ladies' Room. I ducked inside of the stalls before one of the women came out of one of the other ones and weaved my Glamour around me. In the months that I've been doing this, I've gotten very good at it, and I can do it with just a wave of my hand, instead of brushing my hair for minutes. Hey, practice pays off!
Stashing my backpack into a totebag, I went to go cause some trouble.
As we arranged, I met Della and Jazz in front of J.J. Jeeters'®. Or at least, I met Della. Jazz was running a little late. As soon as I walked up, Della pulled me inside Jeeter's. "Whoa! What's Up?"
"That shithead Buck has been following me around all day! I managed to shake him in Body Options®, but I can't be too obvious about it or he'll catch on and we won't be able to do anything!"
"Okay, cool down. What's your plan?"
Della fished around in her purse and pulled out a reddish wig that was styled in a braid like hers. "Decoy. I'll buy you a jacket and skirt like mine. First, I'll go give Buck the runaround for a while. Stew is gonna show up here at Three. Just before he gets here, you change into the outfit, and lead Buck on a wild goose chase. When you get Buck well away from here, change your clothing back, and leave him wondering where 'I' went."
Cool! Nice, simple, effective, and best of all, I get to make that yutz Washburne look like the complete yutz that he is.
Then Jazz came trotting up. "Sorry! I got caught up changing out of the outfit that I wore when I went out."
"Why did you have to change?"
"Well, let's just say that Papa-san wouldn't exactly be enthused if he saw me going out wearing a skirt this short."
"Why? You have great legs!"
"Yeah, I do, don't I? Well, fathers are weird that way... So, what's the plan?"
Della ran it all past Jazz, who picked up on the gist of it without a hitch. "'Kay, when do the guys get here?"
"I told Stew to get here about 2:30. It's 1:30, now. That gives us an hour to kill before Plan A goes into effect."
"Plan A? What's Plan B?"
"I go into The Emporium©, and let Buck follow me. While we're there, one of you sneaks something small and tagged with one of those Anti-Shoplifting thingies into his pocket. Then I go out, and when he follows, he sets off the alarm. They probably won't throw him in jail, but they'll hold him for a couple of hours, and then kick him out of the Mall. But I'd _really_ rather not go there, y'know?
"Anyway, with Plan A, the three of us hang out together, with Buck trailing along after us. This lets him get used to the idea of us being together, right?"
"Right!" Jazz and I chorused together.
"Then, at Two, Jordan makes like she's going off to do whatever. She changes into the outfit that I'm going to buy her, and puts on the wig. When she's ready, she goes into Body Options®, and waits. At 2:15, Jazz and I also go into Body Options, but Jordan and Jazz go out together. Jordan, you'll have to keep an eye out for Buck, so that you'll be able to go out a way that Buck will see you, but won't be able to see your face well enough to figure it out. You two lead him around the corner of the Mall, where he won't be able to see me waiting for Stew."
"Why don't we lead him out of the Mall, altogether?"
"Well, that's up to you guys, Jazz. But, the only reason that he's not right here, draping himself all over me, is that the Mall security guards have told him to knock it off, OR ELSE. Once you're out of the Mall, he can do whatever he wants."
"Okay, we keep it in the Mall."
"At least until Three o'clock, that's when the movie starts. They won't sell him a ticket for the Three o'clock showing, and he's too cheap to buy a ticket for the Five o'clock showing."
"The bargain matinee is over at Four."
"Della, how about this? Just before you go into Body Options®, buy one of those cotton candy things. When we swap places, give me the cotton candy - it'll be something to have in front of my face, while not being obvious."
"Hey, if you want it, Jordan, you can have it! I hate cotton candy <blech!> Too Sweet!"
"Hold on - this works if it's just Buck. What about his buddies?"
"Doug and Donnie?" Della flashed an evil grin. "That's one of the reasons that I chose this Mall - Doug and Donnie got busted shoplifting a month ago. They are indefinitely banned from this place."
"Oh? They're trying to make this an Asshole-Free Zone?"
"No, if they did that, they'd cut their sales by 70%. But bullies hanging around picking fights is bad for business."
As we shopped around for my doppelganger outfit, Della and Jazz thrashed out the specifics for their part of the deal. If it should ever come up, don't try to talk Della down from a price that she's set. That girl has a future as a Labor Negotiator. Every now and again, we'd spot Buck hanging around, doing his Junior Achievement Stalker number. He was wearing a white knit cap, a New England Pats jacket and the obligatory baggy jeans. He looked more than a trifle ridiculous. And you know what? He was still scarier than JayDee was, 'cause he at least had the bulk and the honest to Ghod mean to back it up. Or at least he did when he had his 'boyz' to back him up, or the person that he was leaning on was noticably smaller than he was.
At Two o'clock, as planned, I made a production of having somewhere else to go, and left. Jazz and Della walked in the other direction, and I spotted Buck slouching after them. Once I was well out of his line of sight, I ducked back into the Ladies' Room, and pulled my quick-change number.
I was sneaking up the far staircase to the mezzanine level where the Body Options® outlet was, when my luck started to run sour. "Oh Kee-rist, what are you doin' here, Spider-Boy?"
Reese gave me his patented wiseass smirk and said, "Oh, the question IS, what are you doing here! _I_ am not the one trying to sneak into the Girls' changing rooms."
"Reese, I would simply love to hang around, trading witty barbs with you all day, but I'm busy here. Don't you have some plastic vomit or something to pick up at the novelty outlet?"
"Oh, I'm gonna be meetin' up with my posse later. But for right now, I think that I'd rather hang out with you than just kill time shopping for windows."
"Reese, go away, you do NOT want to be involved with this?"
"Oh and what IS this? And what's the red wig all about? If you really wanted to be a carrot-top, you coulda just Glamoured yerself one up!"
"Inititating a State of Ignoring, beginning.... NOW!" With that, I purposefully marched up the stairs and went into the Body Options® store. I made a production of looking through their inventory, but when one of the shopgirls asked me if she could help me, I had to say something. I told her that I was hiding from a couple of creeps that were being obnoxious and gave descriptions of Buck and Reese. They let me hide out until things were just about right. Being a girl rocks!
I waited until I spotted Della and Jazz looking at the store and gave them a high sign. A few minutes later, they came in, I pulled the wig on, and the switch was made. As we strolled out, I asked Jazz, "So, is the Uncanny Shadow, Master of Mystery, still on our tail?"
"I can't tell. Every time I look in a certain spot, I mysteriously go blind or nearsighted or something, and I can't see a damn thing."
"How Does he DO it?" We spent a good ten minutes wandering around the Mall, gradually leading our dogged pursuer around the bend of the corner, well away from the Tivoli theater.
As we were checking out the faux-jewels at one store that was barely bigger than a closet, Jazz asked me, "Why d'you think Buck is doing this? I mean, the only way that Della could me more obvious that she doesn't want anything to do with him, would be if she got a shotgun and took a shot at him!"
I shrugged. "I dunno. Personally, I don't think Buck really gives a damn what Della thinks. I think Buck thinks that a badass like him should have a girlfriend hanging on his arm. Not that he really wants one, but it fits into his image of what he thinks he should be. She's a prop to him. And, as a prop, she's property. His property. And he won't allow anyone to take his property away from him. Maybe he thinks that if he's annoying enough, he'll scare Stew off, and Della will start hanging out with him, just to avoid any more trouble."
Jazz made a face. "And the sad part is, I've seen couples like that, back in Chicago. They're never that happy."
"And that is why we're going through all of this, to keep that from happening to Della."
"I thought it was because you wanted a pleatherette jacket."
We went up to the mezzanine level, and made our way to the inside bend, to get a look to see if Della was still waiting for Stew. And Men are always complaining about waiting for Women! <Pfeh!>
Damn! Della was still there, nervously looking around. Wait! There was Stew, Griff, Lex and Paris. It's about damn time! Now all we had to do was give ol' Buck the runaround for a bit, lose him long enough for me to change out of this outfit, and then have Jazz prime him with a story about Della leaving. Dang - JayDee's nowhere to be seen.
I was about to say something to Jazz when I saw two unfortunately familiar figures come out of the side door of the Tivoli. Trey and Brett. What the Hell? The Justiciar movie should only be in its first half hour or so! Dammit, it do NOT need Trey hanging around, tripping me up! It's bad enough that Reese Aubrey is out there somewhere, planting tacks for me to step on.
I turned to Jazz. "Listen up, a fly just landed in our soup. I can't explain right now. I gotta leave to handle something. Family business, y'know? Can you hold off Buck, and keep him from looking at the Tivoli?"
Jazz gave me a puzzled look, but a light went on in her head, and she smiled and nodded. We ducked through a store; I went one way, Jazz went the other. Once out of store, I tore down one of the back stairs, pausing to pull my boy clothes out of the bag, change hurriedly, take off the wig, put on my glasses, and drop the Glamour. In reflection, I really should have removed the Glamour with more care.
Once I was able to face little brother without giving him more ammunition, I went hunting for weasel.
Brett and Trey were poking around, checking out the shiny stuff at the knife and specialty hardware store. I blindsided Trey, and briskly rapped two fingers on the top of his head. "And what do you think that you're doing?"
"And what are you shopping for? A good swift kick in the ass?"
"Hey, what are you hassling ME for, asshole? You're not my brother!"
"Oh, GAWD, how I wish that were true!"
"That's what I'll tell the Mall security guard!"
"You'll be lying. BAD things happen to little witches who lie!"
"I haven't been initiated yet - I can lie all I want to!"
"Oh, is that what you think?" Actually, Trey had painted himself into a corner - he couldn't be tagging along after me if he wasn't my little brother, and he couldn't threaten me with the security guards if he admitted that he was my little brother. Security guards know better than to mix in family squabbles. "Listen up - when my business is taken care of, I'll buy a ticket and open the side door to let you two back in the theater. MAYBE, if you're lucky, I'll be done quickly enough that we won't have to wait for the next showing."
"Y'know, Dan, I could help you out with your business, if you made it worth my while..." Trey rubbed his fingers together in the hand jive for 'money'.
"And WHY would I give You any money, kid? You just admitted that you're not my brother. Go away, L'il Boy, y'baaatha me!" I drawled in my best W.C. Fields.
Looking around, I checked out the situation: Della was showing rare sense, sheparding Stew, Lex and Paris into the theater as quickly as possible. Griff was looking around the Mall intently. I guess Della had told him about what Jazz and I were pulling, and he was looking for me. How Sweet!
I looked around for Jazz or any sight of Buck. From where I was, I could see just around the corner of the Mezzanine level, and caught sight of Jazz. She was talking very intently to somene wearing a baggy Boston Red Sox jacket. Then I got a better look at the guy she was talking to. I recognized JayDee. Well! They finally got together! I'd planned on being there to help the introductions along, but maybe this was for the best. Semi-reflexively, I looked for Griff, thinking that we'd go into the theater together with Jazz and JayDee. Then I remembered that at the moment, I wasn't exactly the girl that Griff was dating.
Separating myself from the Junior Woodchucks, I casually strolled over to the back stair, where I'd change back - only this time, I'd leave my 'Della' disguise in the shopping bag. I was almost to the staircase, when I heard Jazz's voice calling JayDee an asshole. I looked up, and JayDee had Jazz by the wrist, and he was obviously hurting her.
Naturally, there wasn't a security guard or responsible sales clerk to be seen. Is there ever?
Forgetting about changing, I charged up the stairs. Jazz was saying, "Get your hands off of me, you Creep!" What the hell had gotten into JayDee?
I ran up and laid a hand on JayDee's shoulder. He looked around and snarled, "Hey! What do YOU want, Asshole?" Oh. Right. He didn't recognize me, to him I was just some guy he didn't know, butting in on his business.
Trying to keep it as cool as possible, I said in a reasonable tone, "Hey, I don't want any trouble - just keep it cool, y'know, Dude? Take yer hand off the lady, and start over again."
"Shaddap, shitface! This ain't nunna yer biz-ness! Now back off, before I smack y'so hard that I drive you inta the pavement!" He raised a fist and cocked it.
Whoa. When did JayDee get real attitude?
Well, this was NOT going as planned. I dunno what JayDee's problem was, but he was definitely taking this whole 'Gangsta' thing way too seriously. And, while JayDee is a nice guy - or at least he was - I gotta think about Jazz first. I talked her into this, I can't just expect her to take this kind of shit while JayDee works through a teenage Mid-Life Crisis.
Fortunately, I don't have to get physical to get Jazz out of this. There's a technique where you channel Glamour through your eyes and voice, giving everything you say a sort of weighty importance. Slip a little anger into the mix, and Woody Allen could stare down Stone Cold Steve Austin. Of course, this bit doesn't work with people that you've known for a long time, because it goes against their well established preconceptions of you. But JayDee's never met 'Dan' before, so it should work.
Radiating barely contained rage through my eyes, I growled, "Listen UP, asshole! Obviously, the lady doesn't want to talk to you right now. I don't know what's going on, but give it a rest, okay? You. Leave. NOW. Come back when you're ready to act like a civilized human being."
JayDee blinked, and stepped back a pace. Then he made a face, went <Tschk!> and slouched off, occasionally looking back resentfully.
I took a deep breath and turned to Jazz, who was looking at me funny. <Heh> "I didn't just break up a lover's spat, did I?"
Jazz smiled broadly. "Oh NO! No, I never met him before. A mutual friend set us up. She just didn't bother to mention that he was a screaming asshole."
"Are you okay?"
"Oh, I'm fine - now." She gave me a pussycat smile and looked me up and down. I think she got some of the trailing edge of the 'presence attack' that I threw at JayDee, and she's trying to reconcile that with my less than impressive physique. "Oh, my name's Jasmine. My friends call me Jazz."
"Oh, right. My name's Dan. Dan Winters."
"Winters? Are you related to Jordan Winters? She's my best friend!"
"Aaahhh... Same family. One of those complicated, small town things. Have you known Jordan for very long?"
"Not really. I've only been in town for a while. And she was the first real friend I made here. At least I thought she was my friend, until she set me up with 'the Notorious R.A.T.' back there."
"What was that all about, anyway?"
"Oh, like I said, Jordan's been trying to get us together for weeks, and I finally broke down and said that I'd meet him. When I ran into him, I tried to introduce myself, he copped an attitude, and well, it kinda went south from there."
"Maybe he's just having a bad day.'
"Don't make excuses for him. I dunno what Jordan sees in him, but I am not going through that again. Oh, by the way, thanks for the save back there."
I just spread my hands and smiled haplessly. "Hey, it's nothing! Any guy would have done the same!"
Jazz nodded approvingly and was about to say something, when a voice piped up, "Hey, DAN! So this is what you were sneaking around, doing?" Trey came trotting up and looked at Jazz. "So, you finally stopped being a sissy and got yerself a girlfriend?"
<Martyred sigh> "Jazz, this is my little brother Tracy-"
"Trey! My NAME is TREY! Tracy is a girl's name!"
"And, as you can no doubt tell, he was so named because even at birth, we could already tell that he was going to be tres annoying."
Trey gave me a be-sneakered kick in the shins, and then returned his attention to Jazz. "So, when did a loser like you get a girlfriend like this?" <Rawr!>
"VERY good question, Winters! Have you been holding out on us?" Reece came ambling up, a cat that's been at the cream smile on his face.
<Even more martyred sigh> "Jazz, this is Reece Aubrey. We go to the same school. He is very much NOT my friend. Reece, this is Jazz. We just ran into each other. Jazz, do yourself a favor, and avoid this sleazebag like the plague."
Sapphire's Place - author 's - " title ""Ooohhh! Now, is THAT any way to talk? After all we've been through together?"
"Reece, what do you want?"
"Gee, and here I was, trying to do you a good turn."
"Good turn? You?"
"Well of course! Since you seemed to have forgotten the fact that your baby brother is wandering around the Mall, all by himself-"
"_what?_" I hastily looked around. "TREY, where is Brett?"
"He was right behind me-"
"And you came running up here at full speed, didn't you? He can't keep up with you on the stairs, you know that! You probably lost him when you came off of the staircase." I turned to Jazz. "Sorry, family emergency, gotta go!"
Jazz reached out and grabbed my hand. "Hey, you came to my rescue, the very least that I can do is return the favor. What does your little brother look like?"
"Well, he's Five years old, yea high-" I held my opened hand up to just below my rib cage, "-dirty blonde hair, red windbreaker, blue jeans bib overalls.'
"Pokemon backpack!" Trey added.
"Yeah, you damn near slept with that thing, until Mom made you hand it down, didn't you, Trey?" I turned back to Jazz. "I really appreciate you helping us with this, Jazz. Do you remember what he looks like?"
"Sure! Dennis the Menace with a Pokemon backpack!"
"Cool. Oh, if you see him, don't try to get him to come with you - he's been taught not to go with strangers. Go and find either Trey or me."
"Hey, No Prob! I think it's really sweet that you're so worried about your little brother..."
"Worry, schmurry! If my parents ever find out that I let Brett get lost, they'll skin me alive!"
A look of mercenary speculation replaced the fraternal concern on Trey's face. "Gee, your ass will really be in a sling if Mom and Dad ever find out about this..."
"Right along with YOURS, 'cause You dragged Brett out of the theater, where he was safe! IF _I'm_ going down for this one, so are YOU!" The conniving leer slipped off of Trey's face, replaced by concern for himself. "Okay, here's what we have to do - Trey, you go to the Millworks display in the center of the Mall on the ground floor. We're going to need someone who's staying in one place." Trey nodded and jetted off to man his appointed post.
Jazz gave me a reassuring smile and rubbed my arm. "Hey, don't worry! Things like this happen all the time at Malls! As a matter of fact, I'll ask security to keep an eye out for him."
"Thanks. I just hope we find him before he realizes that he's lost and starts to freak out."
Reece straightened himself up, trying to look good for the cute black chick. "So, what do you want ME to do?"
"You? Just stay the fuck out of it, Aubrey! I'm not convinced that you're not behind all of this!"
"What? You think that I'd play mindfuck games on a Five-year-old?"
"YES! As a matter of fact, I DO! You're forgetting who you're talking to, Aubrey! I still remember what you did to Sally Emerson back in the Fifth Grade! You played a prank, and she got grounded for a month for it!"
Reece just pulled back, raised an eyebrow, and walked off with a 'Well, forget about you!' air.
Jazz raised both her eyebrows. "What was all that about?"
"Oh, Reece is the kind of guy who'd hide somebody's Insulin, and say that it wasn't HIS fault that they're diabetic."
"Well, he was just offering to help-"
"Jazz, believe me, with Reece, it's better to be safe than sorry. Maybe I was a little hard on him, but we have a history together, and there's bad blood between our families that goes back even further."
Jazz quirked a half smile and said, "Well, I still think you're sweet." She ended it with a brief kiss on my cheek and jogged off toward the West end.
Wise Ones, let it just be gratitude for getting JayDee off her back?
I grabbed my shopping bag and charged up the stairs to the Third floor. Looking around, I couldn't see any sign of my little brother. But then, at his size, he could be playing in among the clothes, or checking out the cool stuff at a specialty store and I couldn't see him.
Then I spotted Mrs. Cosgrove. Missuz Cosgrove knows my brothers, and best of all, she's from the Families, so I don't have to worry about hiding things from her.
At least not too much, anyway.
Okay, a lot, but not everything.
"Oh. Hello, Dan. What do you want?" I explained that little brother Brett was missing. "Oh, that's too bad. I'll keep an eye out for him, and report him to security if I spot him."
"Well, I was sort of wondering if you might know a charm or spell for finding lost children...?"
"Well, if he were my own child, I might, but I can't find a child that I barely know, right off the cuff." Oh well, it was worth a shot. "Oh, Dan? There's something that I'd like to ask you...."
I manfully kept from breaking out in a sweat. Maybe she knew something about me setting up Julia 'I am bitch, hear me scream' Dunaway. "Yes?"
"Earlier, I spotted a young girl of maybe about your age, but she was wearing a Glamour disguise." Oh shit. "I was wondering if you had any idea what she might be up to."
<Nnnggg> "Weeelllll... I can't think of any of the girls from the Families that would have any reason to be using a Glamour disguise. And what if she is? I mean, is it really our business?"
"Dan, I really need to know what she's up to. If she does something criminal using majick, then it endangers everyone in the Coven. Even if what she's doing isn't criminal, if there are too many inexplicable things that happen, people start wondering. We can't afford that."
She went on like this for a while. Then I interrupted her. "Missuz Cosgrove? I have to go find my brother? If I spot a girl going around with a Glamour disguise, I'll let you know." With that I slipped away. It's not like I _lied_. After all, there might be another teenager hanging around the Mall in a Glamour disguise. It's possible.
Then I spotted Della, doing some window shopping. But I saw her go into the Tivoli with Stew, not five minutes ago. This bears looking into.
I walked up to her. "Excuse me, Miss?"
She looked at me and smiled. "Hi, Dan! Can I get one of those?" She pointed at a doo-dad in the window.
"Do we know each other?" To the best of my knowledge, Della has never met 'Dan'.
She giggled. Della is not a giggler. "Of course I know you! You're my big brother!"
"BRETT? Is that You?"
"Sure! What's wrong? I tried to follow Trey like I'm s'pozed to, but he was too fast, and I couldn't find him, and there was this dog and he really liked me, but the lady said that I shouldn't play with him, and I found this really great shell lying on the floor-"
"Brett, we gotta get you out of here, like NOW."
"Why? What did _I_ do? Aren't we gonna go back an' see the rest of the movie?"
The Movie. Perfect. "Yeah, Brett, we're gonna go back and see the rest of the movie. Now, we gotta go find Trey. He's waitin' for us down on the ground floor. C'mon, gimme your hand."
Brett took me by the hand and I steered him toward the back steps. Hopefully, Jazz wouldn't see me walking down the stairs, holding what appeared to be Della's hand. That kind of complication, I don't need.
We made it safely past the Second floor and were half-way to the Mezzanine, when we ran smack into Cole Pesloe and his buddies. "Well, well, well! Lookee what we got here!" Cole purred to his buttlicks. "And we thought it was gonna be a dull afternoon!"
I briefly thought about using the intimidation technique that I'd used on JayDee to get the Pesloe swarm off of my back, but quickly dismissed it. Cole has known me for years, and been beating the shit out of me for most of them. There's no way that he's gonna buy into the threat that's implicit in that charm. So, faced with that, there's only one thing that a ballsy, courageous Big Brother can do to protect his kid brother-
RUN LIKE HELL!
Making sure of my grip on Brett's hand, I put wings on my feet and hauled ass back up the stairs to the Second level. Hopefully, we'd run into a security guard or something before Cole and his buddies could catch up with us.
And, of course, the second that we pulled off of the staircase, we ran smack dab into into Buck Washburne.
Wise Ones, am I burning off negative Karma, or something?
"You!" Buck thundered. "What the fuck do you think that you're doing with MY GIRL?"
"Who are you callin' a GURL?" Brett raged in Della's voice.
Buck must have thought that Brett had said, "Who are you calling your girl?", 'cause he started making chest-thumping, 'Me Tarzan - You Jane' noises. I think Brett still hasn't figured out what the hell he was talking about, yet.
This gave Cole and crew time to catch up with us. "Hey, Winters! So, you think yer buddy is gonna save yer sorry ass?"
Buck looked at Cole. "You know this creep?"
"Yeah! What's it to you?"
"He's trying to move in on MY girl!"
"Whoa! Winters, you're getting above your station, here! Now let her go, and maybe I'll leave a few teeth still in your head!"
Okay folks, if there's anything that I've learned over the past few months, it's that majick done on the fly is just asking for trouble. But, on the other hand, I can't really see how it can get any worse. I created a Glamour of a security guard in a window. "Wow, Cole, I'm impressed - you'd really commit Assault & Battery in plain view of a uniformed guard?" With that I indicated the phantasm.
Cole looked, Reed looked, Arnie looked and Buck looked. Me, I dragged Brett into the first clothing store that I could find. Hiding down among the racks, I asked Brett, "Did anything weird happen to you after you lost Trey, but before I found you?" But when I looked at him, he looked like Brett again. "Say what?"
Brett was looking down at the floor. "I lost my shell..." he muttered, looking at the ground.
"Yeah, I found this really neat seashell... There it is!" He reached down, and sure enough there was a small brown sea shell lying on the store's carpet. He picked it up, and when he straightened up, he looked like Della again.
I took the shell from him, over his objections, and now he looked like himself again. "Hey! That's mine! Dan! What happened to you?"
I looked down, and instead of my jacket, I was wearing Della's blouse. I looked in one of the store mirrors, and Della looked back. There was some kind of enchantment on the shell.
But that doesn't make any sense - why would someone create an enchantment on this shell, so that anyone who held it would look like Della?
With an effort, I declined the Glamour, and looked like myself again. I took Brett by the shoulders and told him, "Brett, I want you to listen very carefully. I want you to go down to the bottom level, y'know, where we came in? Then I want you to go where all the clock-type stuff is behind the glass. Trey is waiting there for you. Tell him to go to the theater and wait by the side door. Someone will come and let you both in, and you can watch the whole movie, this time. Now, I want you to tell me what I just said." He repeated what I said, word for word. But then, Brett is pretty bright for a Five-year- old. And why not? He's a WINTERS! "Why? So that I'll know that you got it right. Good. No, you can't have your shell back. Why? Because it belongs to someone else, and I have to find out who. Now scoot!"
He toddled off, much more safe by himself than I was now. Ignoring the snide comments of the sales staff, I took a quick peek outside the store. Buck was all-too-casually strolling down the gallery with the Pesloe swarm. Damn! As I see it, Buck and Cole are the kind of guys who are so much alike that they'd either hate each other, or get along famously. Obviously, they weren't tearing out each other's throats. But then, they had a third party to pound on - namely, me.
Now, I could duck into one of the changing booths, and come out as Jordan. Cole's never seen 'Jordan' before, and Buck has other things on his mind. But that might raise unwanted interest, especially if Missuz Cosgrove is still sniffing around. I looked at the seashell. Reece. Somehow, I just knew that Reece had a hand in all of this. He probably dropped this shell in front of Brett and then sent him haring off in the wrong direction. It was just the sort of nastiness that he'd come up with. It was planned to cause me tons of headache, and might even escalate into real problems for me, but it still wouldn't backfire on him, because he couldn't know that it would harm me. I've been expecting Reece to try something, to test exactly how far he can go without having the Fool's Cap come slamming down on his little pin head. If anything, it's sort of a relief.
But why would Reece program an enchantment to create an illusion of Della? To the best of my knowledge, Reece doesn't even know Della, and he certainly wouldn't know about her unwanted entanglement with Buck Washburne. So, how did it happen?
Then I caught sight of myself in one of the store mirrors. The huge zit on my chin was gone. Well, there was still some redness and a minor bit of scarring, but nothing like the extraterrestrial horror that had been there this morning.
Hold on. That zit had been charged with lots of magical Glamour. Energy like that doesn't just disappear, it has to go somewhere.
Then it clicked. Earlier, when I'd dropped my 'Jordan' Glamour to go help Jazz, I'd dismissed it pretty quickly. What if the Glamour that I discarded sort of took the disruptive infectious energy with it? I mean, it's possible, but you can only do that sort of thing by accident. Anyway, there it is, floating free, and it latches onto the enchantment on this seashell - and I'm sure there IS an enchantment on the shell - and bonds with it. But it doesn't have a context. And along comes Buck, looking for Della. Glamour is very sensitive to that kind of thing, and imprints Buck's image of Della on itself.
Okay now that is more like it. Reece probably put one of his 'joke' spells on the shell, and it got all tangled up. Now, ain't that just like an Aubrey? Nasty AND sloppy, all at the same time. You'd never catch me being that careless!
But hauling over the ashes of old family feuds wasn't going to get me out of this fix. Then that most precious of things, a plan, came to me.
I allowed the Glamour to re-make me over as Della. Grabbing my shopping bag, which Buck hopefully wouldn't notice - Boys never notice those sort of things - I strode fearlessly out of the store. Buck, Cole, and his two stooges were there, and started following me. I didn't even bother to lose them at first. Then I noticed that Arnie and Reed weren't with them. They were probably hanging around that store waiting for 'Dan' to come out, just in case. So much the better. As I strolled along the gallery, I noticed first Jazz, then Missuz Cosgrove, and then Griff (?), all on different levels of the mall.
I ducked through yet another store and lost the 'Wild Bunch'. Okay, I can get to Missuz Cosgrove without being spotted by either Jazz or Griff, if I time it right, so I'd better get her out of the way first.
I snuck around and managed to come up from behind her as she was doing some shopping. But why in the world would a woman her age be shopping at Victoria's Secret©?
<Hist!> "Missuz Cosgrove?"
"Yes, dear? What can I do for you?" Then, almost reflexively, she gave me a squint with her Good Eye. "Oh, I've been meaning to talk to you..."
"Cool it, Missuz Cosgrove." Making sure that no one was watching, I denied the Glamour, and was myself again.
"Dan? What's the meaning of this?"
I explained about finding my brother looking like Della, and the seashell. "I think Reece Aubrey planted it on Brett as a joke, and it went wrong somehow."
<Hmmm...> "And you think your brother Brett was the girl that I saw earlier? She looked different..."
"Well, I was pulling a minor distraction earlier, and I think that might have influenced the form." True enough, with certain strategic points withheld.
"Distraction? And what would you be up to, with this distraction?" Well that's Mrs. Cosgrove all over.
I gave her another carefully edited version, this time of Della's problem with Buck. "And now, both Buck and Cole are after my hide. One or the other, I can handle, but both of 'em working both sides of town? That's more trouble than I'm really up to!"
"And why are you telling me this?"
"'Cause with this-" I held up the seashell, "-I think I can take care of that little problem, and give Della some breathing room, too. I'm telling you, 'cause I didn't want to risk you tripping me up, or asking awkward questions afterwards. Do you want me to recite an oath that this is the truth?
Mrs. Cosgrove gave a martyred sigh and shook her head. "Just...get it over with, will you, Dan? And try to keep it discrete?"
"Not to worry, Missuz C," I said with a grin. Well, one down, three to go, and I can finally go to the stupid movies!
I allowed the Glamour of Della to mask me again, sneaked over to yet _another_ clothes store and changed in one of their booths. If I keep it up like this, they're not gonna let me come to the Mall anymore. I slipped out of my 'Dan' clothes and into my Della disguise, but didn't let the Glamour drop. Yeah, I know it's complicated, but stick with me, hunh?
I kept the Glamour up, just in case Mrs. Cosgrove was keeping tabs on me. But, onto the next step in my Evil Plot. Fortunately, Jazz was following her search pattern pretty closely, so I was able to find her pretty quickly.
As I walked up to her, I sublty denied the shell's Glamour, so that I looked like Jordan in a Della disguise, not Della. "Hey, Jordan! Where've you been? Your little cousin Brett-"
"I know all about it. We found him, safe and sound. I came to let you know that you didn't have to go down into the sewers."
"Thank God! Hey, why didn't you tell me that you had such a cute cousin?"
"Brett? Yeah, he is cute - when he isn't spewing up babyfood all over you."
"Not Brett! Dan!"
"_Dan_? Pizza Face?"
"Hey, his acne isn't that bad! So, where are we gonna meet up with them?"
"Dan and Griff! I was thinking we'd go into the movie together."
"Aaahh... Well, there are TWO big problems there..."
"Well, first of all, there's this guy here, name of Cole Pesloe. He's got it in for Dan, big time. And he's got his buds here, too. AND they've hooked up with Buck, who also has it in for Dan. It seems that Buck thought that he saw Dan with <ahem!> 'his girl'." I adjust my red wig to help Jazz get the wrong idea. "And, since we found the wandering lamb, Dan decided to sort of drop out of sight for a bit. At least until the end of the movie."
Jazz gave an annoyed grunt.
"And, even beyond that, there's sort of a problem with you and Dan double dating with Griff an' Me. I won't bore you with the sordid details - let's just say that there are people that you simply CAN'T get in the same room together. It's not something that I can really control." Okay, it's time to put the shoe on the other foot... "BUT, if you really _want_, I can always let Dan know that you think that he's seriously cute-"
"NO! Ah, that is..." Jazz gave a whine of frustration. No girl wants to admit to a guy that she like him, before she knows that he likes her.
I was about to offer my condolences about JayDee, when I realized that there was no way that I'd know about that. And since the whole fiasco was my idea, I wasn't about to bring it up.
Jazz gave a slightly less disgruntled grunt, and sighed. "Oh well, crisis over. You wanna go to the movies?"
"Not just yet. I gotta go find Griff - I think I saw him on the Mezzanine - and let him know. But then, there's something that I have to take care of?"
"That idiot Washburne didn't recognize me, even when he was right up in my face. I don't think he really likes Della that much, he just wants a redhead. So, I'm gonna use that to give him something better to do than harrass us when we get out of the movie."
"Ooohhh! Little Miss Devious strikes again! I'm glad that you're on MY side!"
"Don't make assumptions," I replied with a grin. "Oh, by the way, Brett and Trey are waiting by the side door of the theater. When you go in, would you let them in, so that we don't have to pay for them twice?"
Jazz shrugged, nodded, and walked off, singing 'Alone Again, Naturally' to herself.
I went into the Ladies room, and did a little work on the seashell. I changed the Glamour that was stored in the shell so that instead of projecting an image of Della, it projected a general sense of Della. If someone who looked at the person holding it and that holder wasn't supressing the Glamour, the onlooker would think of Della (if they knew her). My changes meant that the Glamour wouldn't last long, an hour at the very most. But that was more than long enough for my purposes.
Then I rounded up Griff, and enlisted him in my scheme.
We had to wait until Cole and Buck had split up, but were still close enough.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Griff asked.
"Hey, you can keep a lid on Buck and his buddies pretty well. But do you really want to deal with them AND the Pelsoe swarm together? And you know that if those assholes get together, they'll make our lives as uncomfortable as they can. If this comes off, not only don't we have to handle that, but Buck and Cole will have better things to do than hassle us. They can hassle each other for fun."
<Nnngg> "Maybe, but I still don't like it."
"Oh, aren't you sweet!" I gave him a kiss on the cheek, and went off on my mission of duplicity.
I swaggered up to Cole and smiled broadly. I made nice-nice for a while. Please, don't make me go into details - this is Cole we're talking about here; I don't like to think about it.
Then I spotted Buck coming. I slipped the seashell into Buck's pocket and gave him a big ol' kiss. And then I slapped him, _hard_.
I have wanted to do that, for SO LONG.
"Hey!" Buck thundered. "What do you think that you're doing with MY GIRL?"
Cole tried to talk sense to his new bud, but even without the Glamour of the shell egging him on, Buck is the original One-Track Mind. Cole never had a chance. Just like I planned.
Hey, I refuse to be the Big Sucker at the Mall that day.
Cole and Buck were going at it so hard that neither they nor Reed and Arnie noticed me slip away.
Griff draped an arm around me as I pulled the wig off of my head. We (finally) headed toward the theater together. Griff cleared his throat and asked suavely, "So...you wanna go see Lord Stengo's Honor?"
"Hunh? But it's at theater #4!"
"I know. But everybody goes to the back row of theater #4. It'll be packed! What say we go see the Justiciar movie?"
"Yeah, well, sure, but-"
"But everyone's gonna be as close to the front as they can? Exactly! We'll have the back row all to ourselves."
He leaned over and gave me one of those kisses of his. Hell, I'd go through all of that crap earlier, just for one of those kisses. "Jordan, I like the way you think!"
Knowing which side his bread was buttered on, Trey curbed his ratfink tendencies.
Unfortunately, Brett didn't know that he that he was supposed to keep his mouth shut. This didn't bother me. When Mom and Dad heard Brett's harrowing story of how he got lost and the bad big kids were ganging up on him, and how I kept the bad guys from hurting him, the 'Rents were impressed. Mostly, they were impressed that I went to such lengths to keep Brett safe. Of course, they were very disappointed in how I let Brett slip away like that in the first place <heh, heh, heh!>, but they decided that searching high and low through the Mall was punishment enough. I don't think that they're gonna be asking me to babysit again any time soon. <Evil Grin>
And best of all, Monday morning, Cole Pesloe had this Huge zit on his chin that simply would NOT go away.