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Weed 1: A Green Christmas

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

Weed 1: A Green Christmas

by Amethyst

 

Mesa, Arizona
The Rozic Residence
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 – 7:15 a.m.

“Ron! Breakfast is ready!” my mother’s voice called out hazily.

I turned over in bed, burrowing further beneath the covers, with a muffled groan being my only reply. I was feeling very sluggish this morning for some reason; I didn’t even feel energetic enough to open my eyes. I had been feeling a little off and tired since last night and I really hoped that I wasn’t coming down with something.

I was awoken by an insistent pounding on my bedroom door. “Ron Rozic! I’ve called you five times! You’re going to be late for school!”

“Dunwanna…” I murmured drowsily into my pillow.

I was only dimly aware of the sound of my door being opened and a moment later, I felt the covers being pulled off of me as my mother’s voice insisted, “Ron! We don’t have time for this! I need to drop you off and get to…” Her voice cut off as a gasp took the place of whatever words she had been about to finish that sentence with.

“Dunwanna…” I repeated tiredly into the silence. “Soooo tiiiired.”

“It’s okay honey, I think I know why, let’s get you some sunlight,” she said. Then I could feel her stripping me down to my boxers and picking me up, but I was too drained to do more than put up a token drowsy protest about how she was making it hard to sleep.

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I awoke on the ground, looking at the morning sky above me, and more than a little confused about how I had gotten there and why I could feel the damp morning ground against my bare skin. Had someone taken off my clothes? I thought that I could remember something like that, but it was hazy.

A quick look around told me that I was in my parents’ garden. It took up most of our sizable backyard and even in December, it was filled with various plants and flowers in full bloom. Kneeling beside me and looking down at me in concern was a youthful and pretty woman with light green skin and four arms that were really more like tentacles. In place of hair, weeping willow branches grew from her head and they were laced with poisonous vines and barbs.

“Hey, Mom, why are we outside?” I asked as I tried to shake off my tiredness and enjoyed the feel of the morning sun on my bare skin.

Yeah, my mom is a mutant. The garden is mostly her work since her power is to make plants grow really fast. She’s a superhero too, with the Elementals. She wears a green leafy costume but never bothers to wear a mask since there’s no point with her appearance. She has another way to hide her looks in public.

The Elementals are a hero team for hire working in Mesa and the surrounding area. They have a contract with the city of Mesa and a few dozen major companies. Sometimes they make short-term private security contracts with celebrities, obscenely wealthy people, and companies that need extra security too, but they’ll also do pro-bono stuff all over the Phoenix area if something major happens and they’re needed.

Private security pays well, which is mostly why we can afford such a nice house with space for a garden this vast. They were doing pretty well for themselves and were even looking to expand the team. They could use a heavy hitter and I was kind of hoping to fill that role and join the team when I eventually manifested and got old enough.

I was pretty sure that I would manifest someday since Dad is a mutant too, and just like Mom, he has plant-like GSD. Dad has red bark-like skin and moss for hair and he’s over seven feet tall. It earned him the name Redwood on his MID. His powers are pretty minor though, he can take the energy that he gets from sunlight and store it to create little balls of light that mimic sunlight.

Despite his intimidating appearance, Dad isn’t cut out to be a superhero like Mom, it doesn’t even interest him anyway. He prefers to arrange the flowers that Mom grows as a florist, and has a popular little shop in the Mesa area, especially since people discovered that he could ‘order’ rare varieties and do custom orders fairly quickly. ‘Redwood Flowers’ is particularly popular for wedding bouquets and arrangements.

So yeah, with both of my parents being who and what they are, I was fully expecting to manifest one day. I was also half expecting some form of GSD as well once I did. This brings me to my current situation. Mom gave me what I figured was supposed to be a reassuring smile as she said, “You manifested, Ronny. You didn’t want to wake up because you were feeling a bit sluggish without sunlight, so I brought you out here for a bit of sunbathing since your father already left for the shop.”

This wasn’t too much of a surprise. As I said, I was expecting it, and Mom had manifested when she was thirteen too. It was actually a relief to get it over and done with, to be honest. Still, I needed to ask. “Sluggish without sunlight? So, I’m guessing…”

Mom caught my intent as I trailed off. “Yes, there does seem to be some GSD; your skin has turned green like mine, and there have been some other small changes as well, though I’m guessing that this may only be the beginning of whatever change you’re going through. Whatever it is, your dad and I will be behind you one hundred percent. So far, you seem to be taking more after me than your father though.”

I nodded but said nothing as I tried to remain calm and think things through. If it was plant-like GSD then I was hardly unfamiliar with it and I was pretty sure that I could take the worst it could throw at me. Mom seemed content to leave me to my thoughts for the moment, and for a while, we both just laid there and soaked up the sunshine. I was starting to feel a little more energetic by the time Mom got up and started putting her costume back on over the bikini that she was wearing.

“Time to get up?” I asked. I was still tired, probably from manifesting, and enjoying the sun on my skin so I didn’t really want to move yet.

“Yes,” she replied in a tone that let me know that she wasn’t going to let me get out of it. “You’ll need an MID since we don’t have a way to disguise you properly yet. That means that we’re going to have to take you to get tested. Go get dressed in something that you don’t mind getting sweaty, and keep in mind that you’ll probably want to wear something that leaves your arms and shoulders bare.”

“What about school? And you have work.” Inquired, voicing my concerns.

Mom gave me a reassuring smile. “I called the school and told them that you’re sick. There is only a little over a week until Christmas break starts so we’ll get your assignments emailed to me until then. They can send any exams or tests as well, and your father or I can oversee you doing those. As for work, I told Wave what’s going on and she agreed that I should be with you for the next day or two. She’ll contact me if they need me for anything; it’s not the first time that a team member has had personal business come up.”

“Umm… if you’re not going to work, then why did you put on your costume, Mom?”

She was still smiling patiently at me as she explained, “Because if you’re getting tested then we’ll have to deal with the MCO. I think that things will go a lot smoother if you have a registered superhero accompanying you.” There was palpable distaste in her voice as she mentioned the organization and she quickly shoved it aside to add, “Now stop stalling, and go get ready, Ronny.”

Her reaction to having to deal the MCO wasn’t surprising, and from what she’d told me, I wasn’t thrilled about it either. With Phoenix being a bit of a hotbed for mutant activity, the local heroes and the MCO tolerated one another, but it was always a bit tense. The MCO knew that they needed to stay on the good side of the local heroes, and vice versa, but neither side really trusted or was comfortable with the other.

Reluctantly, I got up off the ground and headed back inside and up to the bathroom. Not only did I want to clean up a bit before getting dressed, but I also wanted to see what changes I could see in the mirror. There were a few glaring differences from what I saw last night before crawling into bed. First, my skin was mint green. Then there was my hair or lack thereof. All of the hair on my head and body seemed to have fallen out, leaving my skin smooth. Well, my eyebrows and eyelashes were still there, though the former seemed a bit thinner and the latter looked thicker and lusher.

I had barely started puberty and the thick lashes and thin and slightly arched eyebrows made my already androgynous face look more like a girl’s than a boy’s. I had been hoping to get taller, put on some muscle, and maybe start a cool goatee since I had been starting to get some body hair. Now everything was silky smooth though, so it looked like that wasn’t in the cards, at least not the hair bit.

There was some growth; it just didn’t seem to be hair since my thick eyelashes and thin eyebrows seemed to resemble grass more than actual hair. Where the hair on top of my head had been there was

now what looked like a thick coverage of leafy seedlings. They were present on my shoulders and the outer parts of my arms too. Well, that explained what Mom had said about finding something to wear that left them uncovered.

I looked at my shrubby head and frowned as I wondered how long it would take to grow out. Usually, I kept my hair short, but that looked stupid the way it was now. I really wanted to know what it would look like a bit longer.

I got my wish. My ‘hair’ rapidly grew before my eyes, suddenly burst into full bloom, and just kept growing. In the minute that I had stared, it had already gone past shoulder length. “Nonono! Stop!” To my relief, it stopped growing about halfway down my back. It looked like a thick mass of vines, each a little thinner than my pinkie finger, with small leaves and tiny pink flowers that almost looked like miniature roses growing along their length. The whole effect also seemed to make me look even more like a girl than before.

“Great,” I muttered, “I’m a plant bishonen.” Then I took a deep breath and told myself that I could handle this, there were worse cases of GSD, after all. Then I busied myself with getting a closer look at one of the vines. I had to admit that the flowers were pretty, though I liked my Mom’s weeping willow branches more, as strange hair went, since they were flower-free. I also winced in sympathy at the thought of someone trying to pull my hair. There were sharp little thorns on those vines and they glistened wetly.

I flicked the vines over my shoulder with a quick toss of my head and started quickly cleaning up, being careful not to damage the foliage on my shoulders and arms. How I had seemed to grow my hair by thinking about it had me wondering about whether I could do it again and I was a bit curious what they were there for, so I focused my thoughts on the seedlings and willed them to grow.

It didn’t take more than a few seconds before the seedlings on my outer arms and shoulders bloomed. It was a small jungle of leaves and tiny pink flowers covering my shoulders and outer arms. The flowers were close to the same color as those in my hair, but both the blossoms and leaves looked more like those found on mint plants. That made sense since the flowers, the leaves, or both exuded a minty scent. At least I smelled nice.

“Ron! Hurry up! We have a lot to do today!” Mom’s voice called from downstairs, shaking me out of staring at the mirror and enjoying the pleasant aroma.

“Okay, Mom!” I hurriedly finished cleaning myself up and dashed to my room to find something to wear. I briefly looked at the hair that once topped my head, but now covered the bed, and decided to deal with it later. I needed to get dressed. Some sweatpants and sneakers would work for my lower half, but I had never really cared for tank tops and so I didn’t really have anything that would leave my arms and shoulders bare. “Mom! I have nothing to wear!” I finally called back. Great, now I sounded like a girl too.

A moment later, I heard footsteps climbing the stairs, and then Mom looked in. “Ron, you…”

I turned to find my mother staring. I didn’t know if it was possible for me to blush anymore, but I gave it a good try once I realized why she was gaping at me. “I… uhh… figured out how to grow my hair out and stuff. Now I’ll need to trim it… it looks all girly,” I explained. Yeah, because it was only the hair making me look girly.

Mom seemed to shake off her shock and announced. “We can do it later if you feel the need. I managed to squeeze you in for a doctor’s appointment, so we’ll be going there before your testing. Let’s find you something to wear.”

Since my dad was way too big for me to borrow something of his without getting lost in it, something to wear turned out to be a Phoenix Suns jersey that my dad had bought me last year. I had completely forgotten about it because it had been three sizes too big. Dad had said that I would grow into it and that it was better to buy it too big with me starting puberty.

It was still too big, and probably would have looked like a dress if I weren’t wearing the jogging pants, but it was sleeveless and left my shoulders mostly bare too. As I put it on, Mom told me that it was best to leave my leaves uncovered as much as possible since they would probably capture light better for photosynthesis than my bare skin. Now that I was finally dressed, my mom rushed me to the car so we could get going.

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Mesa, Arizona
Dr. Deville’s Office
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 – 10:39 a.m.

“Ron, stop fidgeting,” my mother scolded as we sat in Dr. Deville’s waiting room. She was right, I was fidgeting and since I didn’t have anything to squeeze or roll in my hands, I had resorted to playing with my newly long hair, or rather vines.

I grunted a “Yes’m” in reply and let go of the vine. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Dr. Deville because I did. She had been our family doctor since I was little. It wasn’t that I feared her reaction to the new me either because she was a mutant herself. She was a devisor with some minor GSD and she worked in Mesa to provide quality everyday medical care to mutants. She had patients coming from all over the Phoenix metropolitan area. Mom said that she was worth her weight in gold because, while there were plenty of places to get patched up after a fight, quality and non-judgmental everyday medical care for people with GSD like ours was hard to find.

No, I was nervous because I always get nervous when I see a doctor. I’m always afraid that they’re going to tell me that I have some serious condition, like a terminal brain tumor or something. I felt that way now too, even though I knew that this visit was just for a checkup, and to give us a better idea of what my mutation might have in store for me.

“Ron Rozic?” the receptionist called out. Stacy was a somewhat pretty woman in her forties who had been working with Dr. Deville for as long as we’d been seeing her. Pretty as extreme GSD cases went anyway. She had pebbly lavender skin that sparkled like tiny crystals, shiny silver hair, and spindly hands with ten digits on each instead of the usual five. She smiled as we approached, showing a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth.

“Hi Stacy,” I replied as I tried to make myself match her smile, without the teeth of course.

“Well, it seems that someone manifested,” she said cheerfully. “Don’t worry, Sweetie, the doc will take good care of you. You can go wait in exam room two and put on a gown and she’ll be right with you.”

Mom squeezed my hand and gave an encouraging smile. “I’ll be here waiting for you. You can always call me in if you feel the need.” Usually, she came in with me, but I guess that now that I had manifested she was trying to treat me more like an adult, or at least a teenager.

I nodded, took a deep breath, and then walked down the short hallway to the left of the reception desk to exam room two. In a few minutes, I was inside, undressed, and clad in one of those paper gowns as I sat on the examining table to wait. Dr. Deville had a regular examination table and tools but her exam rooms were fairly large to fit all of the devises that she had inside for doing more in-depth medical scans on either patients or samples, she even had some for medical treatment.

I was sitting and looking around at all of the devises when Dr. Deville entered the room. Okay, so her name may sound like a supervillain, but she’s one of the sweetest ladies I know. I looked toward the opening door and the familiar woman in the skirt suit and lab coat. Her black hair was a stark contrast to the crimson horns emerging from her hairline and a similarly crimson spaded tail swished behind her as she stepped inside and shut the door. She was probably as old as Stacy, but she didn’t show any signs of it yet, maybe because she was an exemplar?

“Ron, what can I do for you tod…” she started to say before stopping midway through for her jaw to drop. It was only for a second before she recovered, not missing a beat as she grinned at me and said, “You’re growing like a weed, Sprout.”

“Wha…” my jaw dropped this time. I hadn’t expected her to go there. GSD jokes just after I manifested? Sure, she was usually pretty cheerful and easygoing about her own differences, but the joke took me completely off guard.

“I learned a long time ago that if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at? Do you really think that Dr. Deville is my birth name? It’s the name on my MID. The first step in adjusting to a new situation outside of the norm is to try and make it not seem so monumental, humor is good for that,” she explained with a smile as she placed a hand gently on my shoulder, careful to not disturb the foliage too much. “Take your situation and own it or others will do it for you, and they probably won’t be as good-natured about it.”

I found myself smiling and nodding. That was why I liked Dr. Deville, she has always seemed so wise to me, but she was friendly about it and didn’t rub it my face. “Thanks, Doc.”

“Alright, Sprout, let’s get a look at you and establish a baseline. Then, if there are any other changes, we can get an idea of what direction they might be taking you in.” With that, Dr. Deville got to work. She took scans, did a physical, and had me provide various samples. The latter was embarrassing at times, and she almost nicked herself on one of the thorns in my hair while trying to get a sample of the fluid that they excreted.

That would have been bad since one of her scanners told her that it was a fairly potent paralytic toxin. She was pretty sure that it wouldn’t affect me though. In fact, she thought that I likely shared my mother’s immunity to plant poisons. The only obvious thing that she found that I had missed in my earlier self-examination in the mirror was six growths on my back.

There were three on either side of my spine in a uniform pattern with the top ones being just beneath my shoulder blades and then the others spaced a couple of inches apart directly below them. Each of the growths were roughly an inch and a half wide in diameter and seemed to be plant matter, similar in composition to the vines on my head. Unfortunately, she would have to wait an hour for the results of some of the other tests that she had wanted to do.

Since she had just squeezed us in and had other patients to see, Dr. Deville and Mom agreed for us to meet with her right after lunch to go over the test results. So, once I was dressed again, Mom and I went out for an early lunch. We decided to go to a mall to eat in the food court so we could pick up some shirts that would leave my arms and shoulders free. Mom thought it might be a good idea to look for something with an open back as well since we had no idea what those growths were for or if they’d keep on growing.

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Mesa, Arizona
Mesa Center Mall
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 – 12:09 p.m.

“Mom, those are girl’s shirts,” I complained as I looked at the three tops my mom was offering. Admittedly, they didn’t have any frills and weren’t pink or anything, in fact, they were actually fairly plain. They were feminine though and we had found them in the junior miss section.

“They’re blouses, Ron, specifically halter tops. You need something to wear that isn’t going to fall off of you,” my mother answered in a quiet voice as she looked pointedly at the Suns jersey that was slipping off my too-slight shoulders again. “You’ll be able to move more freely in these and they’ll leave your upper back, shoulders, and arms bare. You don’t have to wear them all the time, just until we can figure something else out, and you can get by with just shorts while you’re sunbathing in the backyard.”

“But people will…” I automatically began to object before a look from my mother silenced the protest.

“Look, Sweetie, I know that you’re not happy about this, and I can even understand why. They’re just clothes though. Besides, people are mistaking you for a girl regardless,” Mom offered practically.

She was right; people who knew Mom through work, or wanted an autograph in one case, had approached us three times already, and every time they had referred to me as she or said something about not knowing that Mom had a daughter. Even the saleswoman, who didn’t look too pleased to see us in her store, had grudgingly offered through clenched teeth, “How can I help you, ladies,” before Mom had told her that we would be fine on our own.

“Fine, we’ll get them,” I grumbled.

“Good, now go change,” she ordered with a tone that would allow for no disobedience as she tore the tag off the burgundy-colored top and handed it to me. If I’ve learned one thing while having a superhero as a parent, it’s that when they tell you to do something while using that tone, you do it.

Minutes later, we were leaving the store with me in the new top and my Suns jersey keeping the others company in the shopping bag. We made our way to the food court, where I gratefully ordered two large slices of meat-lovers pizza and a Coke. I was starving and craving meat. Besides, it seemed a little weird to be eating vegetables right now. When we were seated at the table and I told Mom that, she started laughing. “I felt the same way at first after I manifested, and I still don’t eat many. Protein is more important for me anyway, probably for you too if you’re craving meat.”

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Mesa, Arizona
Dr. Deville’s Office
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 – 12:52 p.m.

When we returned to Dr. Deville’s practice, Stacy let us right into the office where Dr. Deville was seated behind the desk and looking perplexed at something on her computer screen as she took a bite out of a half-eaten BLT. As we entered, she looked up from her screen and after swallowing her mouthful, she gave us an uncertain smile. “Amanda, Ron, please have a seat,” she offered.

I was hit by a sudden case of nervousness as my mother and I sat across from her. That smile of hers was a bit shaky. She was about to tell me something was wrong with me, I was sure of it. “What’s up, Doc?” I joked, but my voice and my hands were both trembling.

“Your GSD seems to be similar in a lot of ways to your mother’s, Ron,” she told us candidly. “There are some traits that are uniquely yours, and some that Amanda has that you don’t, but largely it’s very similar. Given what you said you were able to do with the foliage on your head and arms, I’m certain that you probably have a similar power set as well, though only a thorough testing will tell whether that assumption is correct. Those growths on your back are definitely plant matter, similar to your hair. One thing that is concerning me though is your hormone levels.”

“What about them?” Mom asked. She looked as nervous as I was. Her upper set of arms was fidgeting while the lower set was tightly gripping the arms of the chair.

Dr. Deville gave us a sympathetic look, but she didn’t sugar-coat things as she replied to my Mom. “Ron’s estrogen levels are extremely high right now and his testosterone levels are practically non-existent. Now, it could just be a brief spike due to manifesting, or it could be an indicator of something more. If he turns out to be an exemplar, there will likely be further changes as he edges toward his BIT. Since any changes that you see from here on out will probably happen more progressively, and I want to keep an eye on his hormone levels as well, I’d like to see Ron every two weeks for the foreseeable future.”

I just sat there, completely stunned. I was well aware of what estrogen and testosterone were and I had a sinking feeling that this was more than just a spike. I didn’t think that Dr. Deville thought it was either or she wouldn’t have me coming to see her every two weeks. I knew that some plants reproduce asexually so I was suddenly worried that I might turn into some sort of hermaphrodite. Things could always be worse, and I could probably handle it if I had no choice, but that wouldn’t be an easy transition to make.

With that on my mind, I was very quiet and lost in my thoughts for the rest of that discussion, and afterward, while Mom booked an appointment with Stacy in two weeks. It wasn’t until we were in the car and on our way to our next destination that Mom awkwardly broke the silence that had settled over us. “Ron, are you…”

“I’m fine, Mom,” I told her quietly. “I’m just processing, I guess. I mean, we always figured there was a good chance that I’d end up with some form of GSD if I manifested. It’s kind of a relief to know for sure now. I can handle this; we’ve seen and heard of way worse cases of GSD than us, right? At least I still have a generally human shape.” I crossed my fingers by my side because if this was just the beginning, as Dr. Deville seemed to believe, I didn’t want to jinx it.

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Phoenix, Arizona
Mutant Commission Office
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 – 2:15 p.m.

“Oh, Blossom. How can I help you?” the woman behind the desk asked with a smile that looked more like she was trying to crush something truly detestable between her teeth. She was somewhat tall and plain-looking with blonde hair tied up in a severe bun, a very modest figure, and cold blue eyes. Her nametag dubbed her as ‘Elizabeth’ and I really didn’t like her attitude. We had just gotten here, and already the thin veneer of friendliness over the obvious dislike and mistrust that radiated from the woman made for an atmosphere of tense awkwardness. Oh, this was going to be fun.

“Yes, I have a recently manifested mutant here who would like to register for an MID,” my mother replied politely, no happier to be here than I was. I tried not to smile at how she didn’t give my name or gender me in any way. The woman would have to make her own assumptions and I didn’t legally have to tell her any personal information. She probably didn’t know that I knew that though.

“Alright, just follow me to the back and I’ll take you to an agent to conduct the testing, Miss…” the woman replied, trying to fish for information. That earned her a withering look from my mother and she shrunk almost imperceptibly backward.

I just smiled and offered, “Thanks, Betty. You can call me Al,” to confuse things further. That was a good song, my parents had introduced me to Paul Simon a few years back and I’d been hooked since. Well, they didn’t personally introduce me to him, just his music. My mom and her teammates knew a lot of celebrities, but not him. The point was that I knew well how girly I looked now, and Al was generally a male name, though it could also be short for something like Alison.

A brief glance to my side showed Mom smirking beside me. I was pretty sure that she had gotten the reference, while the receptionist gave me a confused look as she seemed to be trying to reconcile the name that I had offered with the apparent flat-chested girl in front of her. For a moment, it looked like I might have broken her. Mission accomplished.

Betty didn’t put up more than a token protest as Mom accompanied us to the back, where we were introduced to Agent Dobson, who would be supervising my testing. He gave me a long look as Betty purposely introduced me as ‘Al’. The confusion was priceless, that name combined with my current appearance was the joke gift that kept on giving.

Betty seemed more than happy to leave us in his care so she wouldn’t have to look at us anymore. That hurt, who would be my bodyguard now? Apparently, Mom would be filling that role since she immediately got down to business. “Let’s get this testing over with. And, just so we’re clear, I will be watching every step of the way.”

Agent Dobson let out an aggrieved sigh. “Of course, you will be… if Al here wishes it, of course.”

His hopeful expression was crushed as I put on my best giddy tone and enthusiastic expression as I replied, “Are you kidding me? I manifested, and now I get to spend the whole day with my hero! This is awesome!”

I was hoping that he’d think that our somewhat similar appearances, and possibly powers as well, stemmed from a case of hero worship. Hopefully, with me planting the seed of that idea, he would just leave it at that and not branch out into thoughts that we were somehow from the same family tree. In addition, I hoped that he’d think that my giggling was from my excitement rather than the plant puns currently going through my head.

Agent Dobson merely sighed, looking defeated as he said, “Well, let’s get to the testing room and meet Jerry then.”

Jerry appeared to be the typical egghead scientist type, eager to see what made me tick. He kind of looked at me like I was a particularly distasteful-looking specimen that he was trying to find the right jar for. I think that I liked him even less than Agent Dobson.

What followed was the longest four hours of my life. It probably could have been longer if I had really wanted to mess with Jerry and Agent Dobson, but I did want an accurate measuring of my powers and the atmosphere was tense enough as it was. As it was, you couldn’t cut the tension with a chainsaw. The mutual dislike and mistrust between them and us were painted over with a thin coat of civility, and that coat was threatening to flake off more and more with each passing second.

Testing showed that I had similar abilities to my mother, though not quite as powerful. Where she could grow fifty years’ worth of tree in under half a minute if she pushed herself, it would probably take me nearly ten times longer. Still, I was able to grow various other things from Mom’s collection of seeds fairly quickly. I was glad that I wouldn’t be responsible for cleaning up the mess though.

There weren’t really a lot of surprises in my testing, except that I was in better shape than I thought and that those growths on my back seemed to be thick vines. I had accidentally made them grow out of a knee-jerk reaction and nearly wrapped Jerry up in them after he threw a tennis ball at the back of my head while I was running on the treadmill. Dobson looked ready to shoot me while Jerry hid behind the larger and more intimidating man and claimed that he had been testing for ESP. I thought he was just being a jerk, but Mom managed to calm me down.

Once we had all calmed down, Jerry was fascinated that my reaction seemed to give me some measure of control over the vines and had me work on trying to consciously control them. He thought that my control over them might be some combination of my manifestor ability and a low-level shifter ability. I couldn’t lift much more with them than with my normal arms but I could constrict them pretty tightly around things. He even had me try growing flowers or thorns like those in my hair on the vines. I think we were both surprised when that actually worked.

While it was nice to know what those growths were, and that I could sort of control them like extra limbs, walking around with fifteen-foot-long vines growing out of my back just wouldn’t be practical. Jerry was still in geek mode, and I found that I liked him better that way since he happily explained how some manifestors who manifested things from their bodies could reabsorb them as well. He had me try that with the vines, and while it took a little while to figure out how, I managed it, sort of. There was still a good three feet of vines emerging from my back, but at least they weren’t dragging on the ground behind me.

Of course, Jerry had a theory for that too. He thought that it was my BIT and that this was the shortest that my vines could be. When I had unconsciously made them grow, it was much as I had with the foliage on my head and arms. I had used my growth ability on the plant aspects of myself rather than external seeds and pushed myself closer to my BIT in the process.

By the time we were finished, I was exhausted. I needed sunlight, food, something to drink, and a nap. I felt like I was going to wilt when Jerry took my picture and started entering the information for my MID. “What would you like your codename to be, Miss?” Jerry hadn’t been at all comfortable calling me Al when I looked so feminine. I didn’t care much by this point, I just wanted to get out of there.

“How about Sprout?” I suggested, thinking back to my conversation with Dr. Deville earlier in the day.

After a moment, Jerry shook his head. “It’s taken.”

I sighed and frowned at that. What else had Dr. Deville said besides calling me Sprout? That I was growing like a… “Weed?” I asked hopefully.

Jerry nodded and typed some more, and I almost fell asleep in my chair before he finally handed me a newly minted MID card. The codename was Weed, of course, and it listed my powers as Energizer 3, Manifestor 4, Shifter 1, and Exemplar 1. He had also put on it that I was affiliated with the Elementals, probably because my mom was here as my ‘sponsor’. I guess that it was technically true since I had ties with them, even if I wasn’t an actual team member.

Mom half-dragged me back to the car and, after making sure that there were no MCO agents tailing us, we headed home. It was dark out now so I wasn’t getting any sunlight to help charge me up, so I was pretty sleepy when Mom asked, “How do you feel about pizza tonight? I know that we had it for lunch, but we’re having company tonight.”

“Mooom,” I instantly complained. It wasn’t that I minded having pizza again, but after the day I had, I just wasn’t sure that I was up for company.

“I texted Janet earlier about some of your new manifesting-related issues,” Mom explained. Suddenly, having company made a lot more sense. Janet works with the Phoenix Warriors as their mechanic and she’s always willing to help out a friend with a gadget or devise, usually just for the cost of materials, so long as there’s pizza and beer or something involved.

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Mesa, Arizona
The Rozic Residence
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 – 8:32 p.m.

I must have fallen asleep during the drive home because the next thing that I knew, I was waking up on the couch with Dad kneeling beside me on the floor and one of his sunlights floating in the air above me. “Mmm…. Hey, Dad.” I mumbled sleepily.

“Evenin’, Sport. I heard that you had a bit of an exciting day while I was at work.”

I stared at him in sleepy incomprehension for a moment before everything that had happened came back to me. “Sorta… You know how it goes. I manifested, played with my new powers, got poked and prodded by the doc, went to the mall, and messed with the MCO a bit. Y’know, the usual.”

Dad laughed and reached out to ruffle my hair before stopping himself. Mom must have warned him about the thorns, which was a good thing since I had no idea whether they could pierce his thick bark-like skin or not. “Sounds a bit too fast-paced for my taste,” he offered with a smile. “It’s probably a good thing that you had your mother with you instead of me. Just try not to make messing with MCO agents a regular thing. How are you feeling about all of this, Sport?”

“Tired, obviously,” I joked before moving to sit up so I could have this conversation without having to look up at my dad… any more than usual. “It’s a relief that it’s over and done with. At least the uncertainty isn’t hanging over my head anymore and I know what I’ll have to deal with. Everyone looking at me and thinking that I’m a girl is kinda weird though.”

“I can imagine,” Dad replied with a somewhat nervous laugh. Thankfully, the doorbell rang before things could get awkward. “That’ll be the pizza, so you should go wash up,” he informed me with a smile as he stood up, turned on the holo-projector that would make him look like a normal dude, and went to answer the door.

I got up, feeling a little better after my nap and a bit of pseudo-sunlight. I was really hungry though, so I ran upstairs to clean up a bit. It sounded like my mom was talking with Janet in my bedroom, and when I emerged from washing up in the bathroom they were both in the hallway. As Mom took my place in the washroom, Janet motioned me toward my room, “Come on, Kiddo, let’s talk. I have something to show you before we eat.”

Janet is built a bit like a fantasy Dwarf; short, bulky, and muscular. She’s probably even stronger than she looks, but she has these thin fingers though that help her with precision work when she’s fixing something or working on a new devise or gadget. Like my dad, she had no interest in being a hero though, so while she works with the Phoenix Warriors, it is just as a mechanic.

Mom has worked with a few of the Warriors on occasion and met Janet through them. She quickly became friends with both of my parents and was a regular guest at our home. She had also made the holo-projectors that Mom and Dad used in public when they didn’t want to be stared at. I was kind of hoping that she might do the same for me but I didn’t want to assume.

When I followed her into my room, I found that she had been doing a lot of work in there while I was asleep on the couch. On the ceiling above my bed and in the corners of my bedroom were massive light fixtures. I had seen something similar in my parents room where they had affixed grow lamps to their ceiling after buying the house and renovating their room, but these seemed a bit different. “Whoa,” I said as I stopped and stared.

“Full spectrum HID lights,” Janet explained with a smile as she led me to a panel on the wall. “They’re about as close to sunlight as you’re going to get inside. This panel will turn them off and on and control the intensity. It will also allow you to program a time for them to turn on in the morning; I’d suggest an hour or so before you set your alarm so you don’t wake up feeling sluggish like Amanda said you were this morning. That was probably because you just manifested and it thoroughly drained your energy reserves, but it’s probably better not to take any chances.”

She showed me how to work the control panel, set the timer, and change the light intensity. The light felt really nice on my skin, my leaves and flowers turning to absorb as much as they could. “Thanks, Janet, you’re the best,” I said as I hugged her.

“My pleasure, Kiddo. I had most of the system already prepared as an upgrade to what’s in your parents’ room, but seeing how you’ve manifested, you probably need it more so they can wait a while longer. “I’ll probably have a holo-projector ready for you in a few days too; I just need to get some materials for it, and to program it to look like the old you. That’ll be your Christmas present this year, but I won’t make you wait that long to use it,” she offered with a grin. Then she added, “I’m hungry, what about you? Let’s go have some pizza!”

Having Janet over for dinner was always fun, she had interesting stories to tell about her work with the Warriors. She could also drink my dad under the table, which was saying something. I didn’t drink alcohol, of course, mostly I drank water since I needed to rehydrate after my long day and Mom drank lightly, but she hadn’t been much of a drinker since I was conceived.

Before I knew it, it was late and I was getting sleepy again as Janet said her goodnights. “G’night, Kiddo, remember to set your sunrise before goin’ to bed. Amanda and Davis, it was great hanging out again, I’ll see you soon.”

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Mesa, Arizona
Dr. Deville’s Office
Thursday, December 24th, 2015 – 4:45 p.m.

I deactivated my holo-projector once I was inside the waiting room of Dr. Deville’s office and walked right up to reception to give Stacy an uncertain smile. “Hi, Stacy, I’m here for my checkup.”

“Hi Ronny, is your mom not with you today?” she asked with a smile.

“She and Dad are going to meet me here later. She’s on a job right now and Dad has to close up the shop,” I told her with a shrug.

Stacy nodded and didn’t seem overly concerned. “Well, you’re the doc’s last patient for the day and she wants to give you a thorough exam to make sure nothing else has changed, so they’ll likely be here by the time that she’s ready to go over any results with you. You can go right into exam room one and get ready.”

Thanks, Stacy,” I replied before heading to the examination room in question. Once inside, I took a deep breath before getting out of my clothes and putting on the paper gown. I tried to get some relief by scratching my itchy chest as I sat on the examination table to wait.

Hopefully, Dr. Deville could help with that. My chest had been puffy, tender, and itchy for the past couple of days and it was getting super annoying. I was worried that I might be developing an allergy or something. My shirt rubbing against it had been driving me crazy, so I hadn’t bothered putting one on today until I left for my appointment since I spent most of the day in my room just doing homework and sunbathing.

“Merry Christmas, Ron,” my doctor said with a smile as she entered the room. “How are you feeling? Have you noticed any new changes since you were here last?”

“I kinda made the vines on my back grow out during my testing,” I replied with a shrug as I waved them behind me for her to see.

Her eyebrows rose in interest. “And you can control them? Can you feel things through them as well?”

“Yeah, they think it’s some shifter aspect of my powers. I can sort of feel things through them, but it’s kind of dull, they aren’t as sensitive as the rest of my body.”

“Interesting,” Dr. Deville mumbled as she jotted something down on her clipboard. “Is there anything else that you’ve noticed? I’ll be putting you through my full set of body scanners again and they will pick up any minor changes but if there’s anything else that you can tell me about, it will probably help.”

I looked down at my feet and nodded. “I… think I might be developing an allergy or something. I’ve been itchy and tender.”

“Where? Have you noticed a rash?” she pressed with a thoughtful expression.

“My chest, I haven’t noticed anything like that, but it’s been really annoying.”

“Let me have a look,” she ordered.

Self-consciously, I untied the top of the gown and lowered it so she could do so. Then I braced myself as I said, “Go for it, Doc.”

“Hmmm… how does this feel?” she asked as she gently poked after a long look at my chest and a lot of humming that I didn’t like the sound of at all. My hiss of pain was apparently answer enough. She pulled her finger away with a frown and gave me a sympathetic look. “I have an idea what this might be, but I will need to get some samples and put both them and you through my scanners before I can say for sure.”

With that, the tests began again. She took more samples, even having me collect a urine sample this time. While those were in her sample scanners she began putting me through the big ones and giving me another physical examination as well. Once she was finished, poking, prodding, and scanning me in every conceivable way, she let me get dressed again and I went back to the waiting room.

While we waited for my test results and my parents, Stacy made us some hot cocoa. She even put candy canes in them, which gave them a slight minty taste. I was about half finished with my hot and tasty beverage when Mom and Dad arrived together. “How was the appointment, Sport?” Dad asked.

“It was a doctor’s appointment,” I replied without much enthusiasm as I tried to resist scratching my chest.

“The test results should be ready soon,” Stacy promised, “Can I make you both a hot cocoa while we wait?”

Mom and Dad accepted her offer and we all sipped at our drinks while we waited for Dr. Deville. Mom and Dad struck up a conversation with Stacy as well but I was too nervous to join them. Every minute that I had to wait only seemed to make me more and more agitated.

Finally, Dr. Deville stepped out of her office and said, “Amanda, Davis, I’m glad you’re both here. I’ve gone over Ron’s test results and we need to talk. Please, let’s all go into my office.” My heart stuttered in my chest. No, that didn’t sound ominous at all. And I wasn’t just thinking that because it came from the mouth of someone with horns and a spaded tail.

A few minutes later the four of us were sitting in Dr. Deville’s office and an awkward silence had settled over us. It was Mom who finally broke the silence by asking, “What did you find?” Because she had obviously found something that concerned her.

The doctor sighed before giving a sympathetic look. “Ron’s hormone levels haven’t changed since the last tests. Not as we had hoped, anyway. He also complained that his chest was sore and itchy so I conducted an examination and some more tests; I needed to be absolutely sure about my suspicions before telling you this. Slight differences in his past two body scans and a DNA scan have confirmed it; Ron is something that we call a changeling. His mutation is pushing him toward a female form and if the rate of progression continues to remain steady, I am guessing that he will be fully female by this time next year or a few months after.”

My parents were asking if there was anything that could be done, what we should expect, and other questions that were probably really important. I just sat there, stone silent as I tried to process her words. I had expected issues if and when I manifested, I had even expected GSD. What I hadn’t expected was that I would start turning into a girl. I think that I was probably in shock because, for some reason, the only thing that I could think to say was, “Huh. At least I’m not a bishonen.”

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Mesa, Arizona
The Rozic Residence
Friday, December 25th, 2015 – 7:30 a.m.

“Ron, you’ve barely touched your breakfast,” Mom’s voice was tinged with concern as we all sat at the breakfast table. Usually, I would be enthusiastically digging in, especially since she made my favorite breakfast. “Please, talk to us, baby. You’ve barely spoken a word since we left Dr. Deville’s office. We’re worried about you.”

“We’re still going to love you, Ron, your gender doesn’t matter to us. You will always be our child no matter what; we just want you to be happy,” Dad added almost timidly.

If those words had come from anyone but my parents, I probably would have had trouble believing them. They were my parents though, and I knew how much they loved me. They made sure to tell me and show me every day. Frankly, they spoiled me a bit with their love and attention.

I was an accident, but they never called me that. They called me their little miracle. Mom and Dad believed in being honest with me about how I came into the world though, and had given me all of the gory details. It was a bit awkward, to be honest. I was conceived a couple of months before my parents graduated high school when they had both been very stoned and nearly as drunk at a party with some friends. There hadn’t been any condoms available and they hadn’t even thought of pregnancy as a possibility with both of them having severe GSD.

Mom discovered her condition a few days before graduation and she and Dad got married right out of high school before moving to the Phoenix area. They wanted to take the miracle and start a family, something that neither of them had had since manifesting. Things were hard at first since they were two severe GSD cases alone in a new city, and Mom had a long and difficult pregnancy and nearly lost me due to complications.

With Mom’s help, Dad was able to open Redwood Flowers, but Mom stayed at home with me in our crappy little one-bedroom apartment. She spent all of her time taking care of me, playing with me, and showing me that she loved me more than anything. And when Dad wasn’t working at the flower shop, he did the same.

When I started school, Mom didn’t really know what to do with herself and started to get bored when I wasn’t there. She and Dad had made a lot of friends in the local mutant community though, and one of those friends was thinking about forming a hero team. Fast forward a couple of years and we could afford this big home and Mom and Dad were both doing well in their chosen businesses. Things had changed, they had gotten better for us, but the one thing that hadn’t changed was my parents' unconditional love and acceptance or their willingness to show it.

And now they were both worried sick about me because of something we couldn’t control. I had spent much of the night thinking that this was a death sentence of sorts, that today would be Ron’s last Christmas and next year someone else would be taking his place. It would still be me though, the same child who my parents loved. Sure, there would be adjustments I would have to make to my life, but was any of that really any different than it would be with just a severe case of GSD?

I needed to try to stay positive about this and make it at least look like I was handling this well, for my parents’ sake if not my own. I gave them the best smile that I could summon at the moment. “I’ve just been thinking about things. Y’know, like there’ll be some things I’ll have to change. It’s not a big deal though, so stop worrying. I mean, how hard can being a girl be? A little over half the population does it every day. Mom doesn’t seem to mind it that much.”

Mom narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Are you sure that’s it? You put up a big fuss about having to wear girl’s blouses.”

“Yeah, because I was supposed to be a boy. That’s not the case now though, is it?” I offered with a shrug and a lot more confidence than I really felt at the moment.

“So, you won’t object to me taking you shopping for more suitable clothes for a girl your age then?” she pressed, calling my bluff.

I doubled down. “Psshhht! Why would I do that? I’ll probably need new clothes anyway and I’ll have to get used to wearing them sooner or later. We should probably think of a new name for me too, while we’re at it. Ron doesn’t really sound much like a girl’s name, does it? And I don’t really like the sound of Veronica or Ronnie.”

“Clover,” my mom stated, her tone alone making me know that she was well aware that I was putting on an act that she was willing to play along with, for now. “That was what we were going to call you if you were born a girl.”

I’d heard worse names, and at least it wasn’t ultra-feminine. So, I pretended to sound out the name and think it over before pasting a grin on my pretty green face. “Clooooover… hmmm… I like it! It’s cute, it’s sassy, and it’s very apropos for my new look. Alright! We’ll make a clean break of it for the New Year. I can finish the year as Ron to settle my affairs, and then Clover is in da house!”

“You make it sound like you’re dying,” my father said with a groan. I thought I heard him mumble something else under his breath too. It sounded like ‘dramamine’ or ‘dragging green’ but I may have been imagining it.

“No, I’m just cleaning house. You know, out with the old and in with the new. Look at the time! It’s almost eight o’clock! Don’t we have company coming soon?” I started forking food into my mouth with my usual gusto just to show them that everything was A-ok.

I wasn’t just using the company bit as a distraction, not entirely anyway. It looked like the distraction part was a bust anyway since Mom was giving me a look that said we were going to be talking more about this, but I was saved by the bell. The doorbell, that is. “Al geff it,” I offered with a mouth full of pancake and sausage as I jumped to my feet and ran to the door.

Looking through the peephole when I got to the door showed a somewhat tall and very fit woman with shoulder-length sandy blonde hair and a slightly shorter and much curvier Latina woman with long and curly black hair. They were both a few years younger than my parents were and had their arms full of Christmas gifts. I quickly opened the door to let them in and tried to sound cheerful. “Merry Christmas, Aunt Becky, and Aunt Lucia. Come on in.”

Aunt Becky was the tall blonde, and the leader of Mom’s team, the Elementals, though when in costume she goes by Wave. Lucia had been her girlfriend for the past four years and the two were practically glued together at the hips when they weren’t working. Lucia was a baseline who worked in public relations and often helped the team out with PR as well.

“Ron?!” Aunt Lucia asked in surprise, staring for a moment before her significant other half-pushed her inside.

“Uh, yeah… for now at least,” I mumbled.

“Amanda did tell us that he manifested, Honey, and that we’d have to see it for ourselves,” Aunt Becky reminded her long-term girlfriend with a shrug. Then, somehow, with an arm full of gifts she still managed to herd the pair of us to the living room to deposit the gifts under the tree. “Merry Christmas, Squirt. How did the check-up go yesterday?”

As they placed the gifts in their temporary place, I looked back toward the dining room where Mom and Dad were standing in the doorway to greet our guests. “Well, there was good news and bad news. The good news is that Mom is getting a daughter. The bad news… it’s going to be me, so my brief dream of joining a J-Pop boy band won’t be viable.”

It was a good thing that they had already put the gifts under the tree, or they probably would have dropped them then and there. Thankfully, I was spared having to answer any awkward questions when the doorbell rang again and I took off like a lightning bolt to answer it. This time it was Uncle Ben, or Wick when he was in costume. Uncle Ben was somewhat ordinary looking with dull brown eyes and hair and a lean but strong body, not really the type of person that you would expect to be a fiery superhero.

I had barely finished greeting him and ushering him inside when a couple around the same age as Aunt Becky showed up. The man was Uncle Damon, or Notus as he was called when working with the rest of the team in costume. He was pretty much the embodiment of tall, dark, and handsome and had distinctly Mediterranean features.

With him was his wife, Kayla, or Sparkle as it said on her MID. Where Uncle Damon had these awesome wind powers, Aunt Kayla was a low-level exemplar and energizer. She was extremely pretty with bright pink hair and looked closer to her early twenties than her early thirties. She also had this rainbow aura that constantly surrounded her. It felt really nice on my skin, and my leaves and flowers were all angling themselves toward her as best they could to drink it in.

Hiding behind the pair’s legs and looking at me uncertainly was their four-year-old daughter, Sierra. She had her father’s dark hair and dusky complexion, but her mother’s bright blue eyes and chronic cuteness. “Merry Christmas, Sierra,” I offered after saying the same to her parents and bringing myself down closer to her level.

She just hid further behind her parents, practically up her mother’s skirt. I knew that she probably didn’t recognize me or realize that it was me, but it still hurt. She usually couldn’t wait to see me and I had been babysitting her on occasion since I had turned thirteen in February. “Sierra, it’s me, Ron. I manifested and ended up looking a little more like my mom.”

Aunt Kayla placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. “She’ll get used to it, Ron. Just give her some time, kids are adaptable that way. Let’s all get inside so Damon can put those gifts down somewhere.”

It wasn’t until nearly half an hour later that our last guest arrived. Mom and Aunt Becky were in the kitchen starting on the preparations for Christmas dinner and everyone else was chilling in the living room. Sierra still seemed uncertain about me as she sat in her mom’s lap and played with one of her dolls. We had told everyone about my situation and things were feeling pretty awkward for me so I was glad for the excuse to go answer the door.

Kaede was the youngest of the Elementals at twenty-six years old; she had been fresh out of high school when the team formed. She was a second-generation Japanese American, pretty in a kind of ordinary way, and only a few inches taller than me at five-foot-two. As unlikely as it would seem, she was the team’s tank, Quicksand.

She could shift into a walking pile of wet sand weighing over 2000kg and was very hard to hurt. She wasn’t very strong for her size in that form but she had mass going for her and some limited shapeshifting in her sand form. She doesn’t wear a costume since it would be impractical and her sand form made her identity impossible to guess anyway. She played that up by hardly speaking when she was Quicksand, and when she did she used a deeper more gravelly voice.

She made up for all that brooding silence as Quicksand by being a complete motor mouth as Kaede. She had practically no filter with people who she was comfortable with and was also the one responsible for introducing me to anime. Her jaw actually dropped as I said, “Merry Christmas, Kaede.” She wouldn’t let me call her ‘Aunt Kaede’ because she said it made her feel old.

Her unusual silence only lasted a moment. “Holy bishonen! Is that you, Ron? Your mom told us that you manifested and ended up a little like her, but wow. Look at you; you’re going to make the girls at school so jealous, at least those who can see past the GSD. Should I be offended that a boy is prettier than I am? Because I’m kind of offended and…”

“Stop and breathe, Kaede,” I interrupted, trying not to groan. “No need to be offended because I probably won’t be a boy for much longer. Dr. Deville thinks I’ll be a girl by next year.”

Whatever she had been about to say, it stopped before it left her mouth and the cheerfulness was replaced by concern and remorse as she stepped inside and I closed the door behind her. “I… shit. I’m sorry, Ron, you know how I get when I’m with family. I wasn’t thinking… didn’t even think about that as a possibility. How… how are you handling it?”

“Everything is great. We’ve got a new name picked out and Mom’s going to take me shopping. You should come with. It’ll be fun and we can do that female bonding thing,” I replied, giving my best attempt at a smile.

Kaede sighed and shook her head. “Don’t bullshit me, Ron. This can’t be easy for you.”

“Easy, no. From what the doc says, it’s unavoidable though. The sooner that I get used to that idea and try to adapt, the sooner that Clover can get on with her life. So I’m adapting,” I told her while trying to casually usher her to the living room.

“Clover? Is that…”

“Yeah, it’s going to be my new name. Mom picked it out and it kinda suits me,” I admitted as we entered the living room to the greetings of the rest of the family.

The moment that Kaede put the gifts that she had been carrying with the others under the tree, she turned around and glomped me. As she hugged me tightly, she whispered, “I still call bullshit. But if you need to talk, you have my numb...” That was when she spasmed and went limp in my arms.

“Geeze, Kaede. You gotta watch the hair, those thorns are dangerous. I didn’t think that the toxin would be that fast-acting though. That shit is… damn.” I carefully extended the vines from my back to wrap them gently around her and carry her to the couch as Dad and Uncle Ben vacated it to make space for her. I had to carry her close to my body so her weight wouldn’t put me off balance, but I managed it and then quickly retracted my vines to their usual length.

“Will she be okay?” Aunt Kayla asked in concern.

“I think she scratched herself on some of the thorns in my hair,” I admitted awkwardly. “Dr. Deville said that they ‘excrete a potent but relatively harmless paralytic toxin’. So, I guess she should be okay, she’ll just be out of it for a little while.”

It was an hour or so before Kaede was able to start moving again and another fifteen minutes after that when she seemed to be over it enough to sit up and talk properly again. “Relatively harmless, my ass,” she muttered. “I’m still numb, and I think I can taste colors.”

At least a lesson was learned; don’t touch the thorns. Now that Kaede could move again we all began to open gifts and things felt almost normal for a little while. Kaede got me a box set of an anime she thought I would enjoy, but I mostly got some video games, a new tablet, and a bunch of clothes that we were probably going to have to return. They were boys’ clothes and most of them wouldn’t fit me well for long as my body continued to change.

The incident with Kaede had made Sierra even more uncertain about me and it wasn’t until midafternoon that Aunt Kayla was able to convince her that I was Ron, and still the same person despite my changed appearance. I had to play with some of her new dolls with her to get her to completely relax with me though. Usually, I would have just watched her play, but I figured that this was probably one of those girl things that I should get some experience with.

Over a turkey dinner with all the fixings, made by Mom and Aunt Becky, we all talked about everything that had been happening lately with everyone. Of course, one of those topics was me manifesting. Mom and I told everyone the results of my testing and then went on to explain my changeling situation in more detail, and that I would start using the name Clover soon. Everyone was really supportive, even little Sierra, once her parents were able to explain things so she could understand. I think she just liked the thought of having a girl ‘cousin’ rather than a boy.

Finally, after hugs (very careful ones in my case) and well-wishes, the family split up to head to their homes for the night. It was late, and I was tired from a busy day and having no sleep the night before, so after saying good night to Mom and Dad, I went up to my room to go to bed. I hadn’t really had time to put my gifts away yet so most of the clothes I had gotten were sitting on my dresser.

My heart clenched painfully as I look at them and for a moment, I couldn’t breathe. They were boys’ clothes and I would never get to wear them since I was trying to make everyone believe that I was fine and would be starting the New Year as Clover. It was just a painful reminder of what I was going to become, and what I was losing. I turned in my bed to face away from them, but the thoughts were already firmly planted in my mind. That Christmas night was the first time that I had ever cried myself to sleep, but it wouldn’t be the last.

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One year later…

 

Mesa, Arizona
The Rozic Residence
Thursday, December 22nd, 2016 – 6:52 p.m.

“This sucks,” I grumbled as I sat on the toilet and read the directions on the second of the two boxes that my Mom had brought me a few minutes before. I wasn’t too sure about sticking some foreign object inside my body, but Mom said that my ‘flow’ was heavy and it would be better to use both a tampon and a panty liner, well if I didn’t want my panties to be a bloody mess… again. Those were now being washed. I had a clean pair with a liner already in them and I just needed to get this over with. That seemed to be my motto for the past year since I had manifested.

Taking another deep breath, I removed a tampon from the box and followed the directions to place the offensive device in its place. It felt weird. Not really uncomfortable, at least not in comparison to the reason that I needed it, just weird. And now I could apparently look forward to this for anywhere from three to five days a month for the rest of my life. “This really sucks,” I said, louder this time.

“It’s a gift from Mother Nature,” Mom called back from outside the door. “You’ll get used to it, and someday you might want kids of your own.”

“Mother Nature can take it back! This is not what I wanted for Christmas!”

“Sorry, Honey, there’s a no-returns policy on this one. It just means that you’re becoming a woman,” Mom countered.

“Yeah, like we haven’t known that was coming since I manifested,” I grumbled. Then I let out a long sigh, pulled my newly armored panties up, and put on a skirt. My jeans were with the panties in the washing machine. Mom was hoping she could save them.

I had been going by my new name and wearing girls’ clothes at home since January, and Mom had gotten both my name and gender changed on my official documents. I was officially Clover now, officially a girl, so why did I feel like a fake?

Mom didn’t think it would be a good idea to have me go back to my old school, even with the holo-projector that Janet had made to make me look like my old self. So I finished junior high by being home-schooled. When it came time to start high school in the fall and Mom wanted to send me to Whateley, a school for mutants where she and Dad had met, I had faltered though.

Okay, maybe that is understating it a little. I completely freaked out. I didn’t want to start at a new school and meet a bunch of people for the first time stuck halfway between genders, even if I did look like the girl I would have to present as. I begged Mom to let me keep homeschooling until the changes were complete. And now it seemed that they were.

As I washed my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror. If you ignored the green skin and the foliage, I was very pretty and thanks to being an exemplar, I had a nice figure to match. I even felt a little proud of it sometimes.

I was five foot three now with long slender legs, wide hips, a slim waist, and a trim tummy, and I mostly filled out the bra that I was wearing. A B-cup was a little too tight, while the C-cup still left some room to grow into. I had a nicely toned fit look with six-pack abs too. It was hard to look at the healthy-looking girl staring back at me and think that she used to be a boy, but I was still worried that others would.

I stepped out of the bathroom feeling worse physically than I ever had in my life. What was worse was knowing that this was just the start and I’d get a repeat performance every month from now on. I was about to go just chill out under the lamps in my room, but I didn’t get to do that before Mom grabbed me and dragged me by the arm to the kitchen table. “Sit down, Clover. You’ll be leaving for school in less than two weeks and we need to go over your travel plans and work out a list of what you’ll be taking with you.”

“But, Mom, I don’t think I’m ready, I’m still not really adjusted to this whole…”

“No, Clover,” Mom insisted in a steely tone as she cut me off. “We are not doing this again. Your registration papers have already been sent, and you are going. The reason that you don’t feel adjusted is that you’re not trying to adjust, and that ends right now.”

“Seriously, Mom?! I wear girls’ clothes and I’ve been using my new name for almost a year now. How is that not trying?!” I snapped back at her. Did she think this was easy?

“Yes, you have been. When you’re at home,” she said, making it clear that she thought my efforts were lacking. “But you don’t leave the house except to go to your appointments or when I drag you out shopping, and you don’t interact with anyone except family, family friends, or Dr. Deville as yourself. You haven’t made any new friends since leaving school, and when you do go out, you’re always wearing your holo-projector.”

I blew my top at her hypocrisy. “So what?! You and Dad wear yours when you’re out too when you’re not working!”

“Yes! We do! But yours still looks like Ron! And every time that we try to get you to see Janet to get it reprogrammed so you look more like a ‘Clover’ than a ‘Ron’ you come up with some excuse to avoid it! I’m taking it to Janet tomorrow and it is going to be done! If you don’t stop hiding, and start socializing with other people as a girl, you are never going to adjust!” At this point, Mom realized that she was yelling as loudly as I was and stopped to take a deep breath.

Then, more calmly, she reached out to take my hands in hers. “Clover, Honey, I just want you to be happy, but you are never going to be if you keep hiding from the world in your room or behind an illusion of your old self. At Whateley, you can meet other mutant kids, make some friends, and learn to control your powers better, just like your father and I did. You can challenge yourself, in every way that you need to.”

“But…”

Mom cut me off, the look on her face and the tone of her voice making it clear that there was no way out of this for me. “No buts, Clover. This is happening. I don’t want to be the bad guy here, I love you too damn much to ever want to do anything to hurt you, but this is for your own good.”

I bit my lip to hold back the tears that I knew were coming. When I could make myself speak without my voice trembling, I told her. “You can make your own damn list, and make all the decisions for me. You’re good at that. I’m going to go do what I’m good at.” Then I turned on my heel and ran to my room, locking the door behind me to hide from the world at large, but especially my mom. Eventually, I cried myself to sleep.

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Mesa, Arizona
Dr. Deville’s Office
Friday, December 23rd, 2016 – 11:30 a.m.

I was miserable from the cramps that seemed to be trying to tear my insides apart while I sat waiting for my appointment with Dr. Deville. The Midol that Mom had given me wasn’t helping much, and I was feeling horrible as a result. I was feeling guilty and terrible about my fight with Mom too, so I was in a pretty wretched mood when someone that I recognized entered the waiting room.

No, two people. The first was recognizable to practically anyone living in the Phoenix area and not living under a rock. Mogollan Monster, or Dae-Jung to those who knew him, was roughly seven feet tall and looked almost like a sasquatch with his ape-like face, short sandy brown fur, and massive hands and feet. With him was his girlfriend, June. She was nearly as recognizable to the public in the Phoenix area these days and probably the reason for their presence at Dr. Deville’s. They both worked with the Phoenix Warriors, where June was known as Sun Hawk. I had met them both a couple of times through my mom.

I almost didn’t recognize June without the pixie cut she had been wearing when I first met her out of costume, or the bandages on her head from the last time I had seen her, and now her brown hair was cut short, in a crew cut. June had been fighting a supervillain called Forte last month and had suffered a broken neck and other injuries as a result, including some swelling in her brain. She had been healed, but she had still been in serious condition when we visited her in the hospital and I figured that she was probably here for a checkup.

I kind of wanted to go talk to her and see if she was doing okay. The incident with Forte hadn’t just caused her physical damage. After Dae-Jung had refused to leave her side and photos had surfaced of him cradling her broken form, people had started putting two and two together and linked Sun Hawk to June, who was dating the large mutant in her civilian identity. Now her secret identity was toast and, if the tremors in her hands were any indication, she was still on the mend.

I was about to approach them when Stacy called out, “Clover, you know the drill by now, you can head over to exam room one.”

I stood up and gave one last look at the pair of heroes before heading to the exam room. Thankfully, there weren’t as many tests or scans as usual. Dr. Deville had given me a pelvic exam on my last visit after the sonar showed that I seemed to be completely female now. That was an uncomfortable experience that I didn’t want to face again, like ever, if I could avoid it.

When it was all over and I was once again properly dressed, Dr. Deville offered me a weak smile. “Congratulations Clover, you’re officially a woman now. You can probably expect a little more growth in your chest and hips over the next few months, but I think that your changes are mostly complete.”

“Gee thanks, my lifelong dream has finally come to fruition,” I countered in a monotone. She could say that, my mom could say it, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was true. Was I really a woman? Or was I a fake, a pretender?

“I thought that you were over the dysphoria, Clover.”

“I… am? I… I don’t hate what I see in the mirror anymore, I even kind of like it sometimes. I just… I guess I’m just feeling terrible because of the… you know.” I looked downward as I said the last. It showed what I was talking about and allowed me to not face her. I had very nearly told her what the real problem was, but I didn’t think she would understand. How could she? She was a real woman.

Dr. Deville sighed but didn’t say anything more on the topic. Instead, she said, “As for the rough period that you’re having. It could be due to your unique physiology. You’re as much plant matter as you are human.”

“Yeah, I figured as much, what with the vines and stuff. You haven’t really gone into much detail on that though, you said that you wanted to wait until you were more certain about where my changes were heading,” I replied.

That was when show and tell began, with x-rays, sonograms, full body scans, and stuff. I was a freak of nature, but then, I had been expecting that since I manifested. Hell, I had half expected to become something like that even before I manifested, just without the whole girl thing.

I already knew that my blood was thick, I had cut myself a few times recently and barely bled, and Dr. Deville had had trouble taking samples too. She told me that it was more like the sap found in cacti than blood, so at least I was unlikely to bleed to death. It still contained all of the necessary white and red blood cells and stuff, but a chemical analysis showed that it contained other stuff as well, some of which I couldn’t pronounce or remember.

My organs were still mostly human-like, give or take a few, but they were well-padded by the vines. The large vines growing from my back were apparently supported by an enhanced matrix of much thinner and more durable vines in my midsection. In fact, that matrix also wrapped around my ribs, spine, and muscles, giving me that fit and toned look and increased padding. My bones were technically still human bones, but they were threaded with plant fibers. Dr. Deville thought that this would make them, and me, sturdier and more flexible overall. I might not be a brick, but I could probably take a beating from a baseline, at least.

Once show and tell was over, I knew a lot more about my new body and how it worked than I probably wanted to. It was important stuff for me to know though. Finally, Dr. Deville said, “This will probably be the last time that I see you for a while, Clover. I’ll forward your records to the doctors at Whateley, but you shouldn’t need to keep up the regular check-ups like this anymore, now that your changes seem to be mostly complete.”

“Thanks, Doc, have a merry Christmas,” I said with a relieved sigh before grabbing my purse and leaving the exam room as quickly as possible. My head hurt from the science lesson.

Unfortunately, Mom wasn’t waiting for me when I got back to the waiting room as we had planned during a somewhat terse conversation before she had left for work. I was supposed to wait for her here so she could pick me up for lunch and take me home. Neither of us felt that it would be a good idea for me to be on my own while Janet was reprogramming my holo-projector and Dr. Deville’s office would be a safe space for me to wait since I was obviously not a baseline.

It was almost a quarter after twelve when Mom’s ringtone sounded. I fished my phone, armored in a pink case, out of my purse and quickly answered. “Hey, Mom, what’s up?” I tried to act casual, but I was feeling guilty about our fight.

“We’re running a bit late so I probably won’t be able to meet you for lunch, Honey. Do you have Gavin’s number? And how was your check-up?” Gavin was an independent cab driver with minor GSD and he got a lot of business from the local mutants.

“Yeah, I have it, Mom,” I replied. She had watched me program it into my phone. “The appointment went fine; the doc says that it should be my last. Except for maybe a growth spurt or two, my changes seem to be finished. She told me all about my new biology too.”

“That’s good. Okay, call Gavin for a ride, and I’ll see you when I get home. I have to go. Love you.” Once the words had hurriedly left her mouth she disconnected the call and I was left staring at my phone. I was about to call Gavin for that ride when a familiar Korean-accented voice above me said, “You’re Blossom’s daughter, right? Weed?”

I managed to resist the urge to say, “Well, I am now.” Instead, I looked way up from my seated position and up at the visage of Mogollan Monster. It probably would have been terrifying if not for the friendly smile on his face. “Uh… yeah. That’s me. You can… umm… call me Clover though.”

“I didn’t get the chance to thank you both before, for visiting Sun Hawk while she was in the hospital,” the large mutant said, rubbing the back of his head self-consciously.

“That’s okay; you had a lot on your plate at the time. How is Sun Hawk doing?” I asked. I saw you earlier and wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to intrude.”

“That’s what we’re here to find out. She’s out of the hospital and recovering but there are some lingering issues. Right now, she has her good days and her bad days,” he replied with a wan smile. I could see it in his eyes how much he worried about her though, just as I had seen it when he had hovered over her when we had visited her nearly a month ago. I couldn’t blame him for being worried either, her neck hadn’t been the only damage that she took and brain injuries could be scary.

“Finished.” Sun Hawk said as she approached us. She looked a little down and I wondered how her appointment had gone. I wasn’t going to be nosy and ask though. Then she noticed me and tilted her head as if trying to place me. “Blossom? No, daughter. Visited me in hospital.”

“Uh… yeah. I go by Weed, but you’re Mom’s friends, so you can call me Clover,” I offered uncertainly.

“You here when we came. Waiting for tests?” she asked.

“No. Mom was supposed to meet me here to go for lunch after my appointment, but she just called to tell me that she’s caught up in some team stuff. So, I guess I’m heading home,” I offered with a shrug.

Sun Hawk nodded thoughtfully. “Hungry. Lunch sounds good. You want come, Clover?”

I looked uncertainly toward Mogollan Monster and he nodded. “I’ve heard there are a few good places nearby, and you’ll be safe with m… us.”

I thought about it for a moment. It wasn’t like Mom had grounded me or anything, that would have gone against the whole point she had been trying to make, that I needed to socialize with others in more public settings as myself instead of Ron. This sort of counted and I had already met them a couple of times so it wasn’t like they were strangers. After a moment, I nodded and said, “Sure, I’d like that.”

Sun Hawk smiled and nodded, her mood seemingly flipped from earlier. “Pizza good?”

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Mesa, Arizona
Martelli’s Pizzeria
Friday, December 23rd, 2016 – 1:22 p.m.

By the time we arrived at the restaurant, I was starting to get less uneasy by the stares we were getting. Dae-Jung was getting the majority of them because he’s, like, huge and recognizable, but I was getting a few too. And then there were the quick glances and furtive whispers when people looked at Dae-Jung and June holding hands. They had both told me to call them by their names since we sorta knew each other through Mom and they were calling me Clover too.

They even treated me to lunch, paying for the two extra-large pizzas. I could only eat a couple of slices though and Dae-Jung ate the lion’s share. They were nice people and it was nice spending time getting to know them. We had a good talk and both of them had a perspective on manifesting, GSD, and life-changing events in general after their experiences. They were trying to take things with June’s injuries one day at a time and I kind of wished that I had thought to do that when I learned that I was becoming a girl, rather than jumping straight into being Clover.

It couldn’t be easy for either of them. I had noticed the way that June kept forgetting or missing words when talking, how her hands trembled, and how she was gripping her drink tightly with both hands to make it less noticeable. She was a hero, she didn’t deserve this. I hoped that someone would catch Forte and that they’d never let her see the light of day again.

I excused myself to go to the ladies’ room and I was seated in the stall and about to change my tampon when I realized that I had forgotten something very important. There were no tampons, or anything like them, in my purse. Mom had suggested it before she left for the Elementals headquarters, but it had completely slipped my mind before I left for my appointment. I just wasn’t used to having to think about things like that.

Of course, I wasn’t, because I wasn’t a real girl. A real girl wouldn’t have forgotten. Dae-Jung and June could probably see right through me too. I could dress as a girl, I could try to act like a girl, but I would never be one. Everyone would always figure it out. I would always know it.

I couldn’t breathe. I was shaking like a leaf. I was sobbing and in the midst of a full-blown panic attack several minutes later when the ladies' room door opened. Footsteps approached the stall and it was quiet for a moment before June’s voice cut through the sound of my strangled and gasping sobbing. “Clover? You okay?”

I couldn’t answer her for several minutes, it took that long just to get air into my lungs in a somewhat controlled manner. Only once I was merely sobbing instead of sobbing and not breathing, was I able to stammer out. “T-t-tampon… for… forgot…” I wasn’t a girl. I barely qualified as a person. I was the stupidest person on Earth, and it was all obvious to her now.

She moved away from the stall and there was a sort of grinding click, followed by a light thump. When she returned, her hand slipped under the stall door, holding just what I needed. Well, for the physical issue anyway. My hands shook as I blubbered my thanks with what breath I had, but I managed to change tampons and place the used one in the receptacle on the wall of the stall. I had mostly stopped crying by the time I had everything properly in place and left the stall to wash my hands.

I was so mortified that couldn’t even look at June. As I washed my hands and she asked calmly, “Your first?” My head bobbed up and down in a nod since I wasn’t sure if I could find words yet. “Happens. Everyone forgets sometimes. I forgotten too. Dispenser on wall.”

“B-but… I’m not… not a girl… not really,” I sobbed as I tried to wipe away the tears and the tightness in my chest threatened to return.

“Not? You look like to me,” she said as she placed a hand gently on my shoulder.

“I… wasn’t born this way… I changed when I… manifested. Not a normal girl… and I… never will be.”

The hand on my shoulder reached carefully around me to pull me into a sort of half-hug. “Nobody normal. Not just one type girl. Everyone different. Learn, find yourself. Be girl you want be.”

There was a knock at the door and Dae-Jung’s voice sounded really worried as he asked, “Is everything okay in there? You’ve been gone a while.”

“Clover upset. Will be fine, out soon,” June called back. Then, once I had finally stopped crying, she helped me to clean up. It was a good thing that I couldn’t wear makeup, because if I had been wearing any it would have made my face even more of a disaster. As it was, my eyes were still red and blotchy as Dae-Jung drove me home before they headed back into Phoenix.

It was as we drove in that supersized van of Dae-Jung’s that he asked, “What had you so upset, Clover?” His tone was gentle and caring, and he kind of reminded me of my Dad. Both of them were large and intimidating to others at first glance, but had hearts of gold.

“Girl stuff,” June answered simply, giving me an out if I wanted it.

“Yeah, that,” I agreed with a blush that probably looked weird with my green skin. Then, on impulse, I gestured at my body. “And… I’m kinda afraid of dealing with people like this too. Mom is sending me to some school in New Hampshire so I can ‘adjust’ and we kinda had a fight about it last night. I feel bad about it but… every time that I think about trying to make friends or meet new people like this I start to panic. You two were different because you’re heroes, and we’ve met before through my Mom.”

“Whateley?” June asked.

“Uhh… yeah,” I confirmed. “It’s where she and Dad went to school.”

Dae-Jung looked thoughtful as he drove. He didn’t really have the full story, but it was enough for him to give another perspective. “Interacting with others when you have GSD is hard; your Mom knows that as well as any of us, Clover. There’s always the fear of rejection, or worse. Some people will accept you, some won’t, but you won’t know which is which unless you try. You’ll be a lot less lonely that way too. Whateley is a good school too, June and I both went there. I think you’ll do better there than you fear.”

“Made good friends Whateley. Learned about powers, who wanted be too. You too, Clover. Summer you come home, tell us about. We be here, if you need talk,” June offered with a smile.

By that time, we were pulling up to my house and as he pulled up to the curb, Dae-Jung nodded in agreement with his girlfriend. “She’s right, we’re here if you need to talk about anything, or need some advice. You just need to call.” With the vehicle stopped, the large mutant pulled his phone from a large pocket and June had already done the same. Then they both had me add their numbers to my contacts list on my phone while they added mine to theirs.

I gave into a ridiculous urge to hug them both before getting out of the van. I was ready to cry again, but at least these were somewhat happy tears. “I… thanks. Both of you. I’m glad that we talked and I’ll talk to you soon. Have a merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Clover,” they both replied. Then they waited to make sure that I was safely inside the house before Dae-Jung drove off.

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Mesa, Arizona
The Rozic Residence
Thursday, December 22nd, 2016 – 6:32 p.m.

I was half inside the oven, pulling out the stuffed peppers when I heard Dad’s truck pull into the driveway. The peppers were done, but I thought that the dinner rolls could use a few more minutes of baking. Placing the pan with the peppers on a pair of potholders on the counter, I turned back to the stove to stir the beef stew and give it a taste. Smiling in satisfaction, I turned the heat down to let it simmer. I was pretty happy with my work.

Mom had been teaching me to cook, do my own laundry, and clean since I had started jumping into the whole being Clover thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that she thought those kinds of things were a woman’s work or anything, she just felt that since I had manifested I was old enough to learn to take care of myself if I had to. These weren’t just skills that girls should know, but that everyone should.

Usually, whenever Mom had me try cooking, she was in the kitchen with me though, this was my first time attempting it on my own. I had been doing a lot of thinking since Dae-Jung and June had dropped me off. And since I tend to do my best deep thinking when my hands are busy doing something else, I decided to make dinner for Mom and Dad. It was nothing fancy, and I had mostly just followed the recipes, but I did grow the vegetables myself too.

This was also sort of a peace offering for my fight with Mom the night before. The more that I thought about what the two Warriors had said to me during our time together earlier this afternoon, and how I acted last night, the more that I thought they were probably right, and so was Mom. This was the first big argument that Mom and I had had, at least about something important, and I had said something unfair. Now the guilt was eating away at my heart like a cancer. I needed to talk to her; I needed to show and tell her that I was sorry.

“Something smells good,” Dad’s voice called out, followed by the sound of the front door shutting. “I didn’t think that you were going to be home until late tonight, Amand... uhh… Clover, you’re not in your room. What are you doing puttering around the kitchen, pumpkin? Not that I’m complaining, that smells really good.”

“I wanted to do something nice for you and Mom, and I wanted to talk to her… about the Whateley thing,” I admitted.

Dad sighed expansively. “She’s not going to change her mind, pumpkin. And for the record, I agree with her. You need to start meeting other people your age and make some friends. You need to stop clinging to who you used to be, it’s important when you have GSD and I think that it’s doubly important for you.”

He thought that I was trying to butter them up. I couldn’t really blame him either. It did kind of look like that now that I thought about it, especially after the way I had acted last night. I bit my lip and resisted the urge to shrink away. I did turn away though. I had to take the dinner rolls out of the oven anyway, and it was a good excuse to take a deep breath and not have to look at my dad’s suspicious gaze as I tried to form what I needed to say in my mind.

I still couldn’t look at him as I placed the pan of dinner rolls beside the stuffed peppers. “I… I’m not. I’m not holding on to Ron, Dad. I just… I’m scared. I get terrified… every time that I even think about meeting new people. Terrified that I’ll try to make friends and they’ll figure out that I used to be a boy… that I’m not a real girl.”

Dad’s massive frame engulfed me in a hug, and luckily his thick bark-like skin protected him from the thorns in my long hair as he held me tight. “Pumpkin, your gender situation really isn’t all that different than your GSD. If people can’t accept you because of something that you have no control over, then they’re not really your friends. You will make friends though. I might be biased, but my daughter is a damn fine girl, that anyone should be proud to call a friend. And you look pretty real to me.”

“I don’t feel like it… sometimes, I feel like a fake,” I sniffled into his embrace. “I had a… huge panic attack over… something stupid earlier. Ju… June talked me down… helped me figure some things out, so I’m… working on it. Dae-Jung had some good advice too; he made me realize that… you and Mom are right. If I’m going to get past this, I’m gonna need to… put out the effort and not just let fear control me.”

“June? Dae-Jung?” Dad asked as he took me by the shoulders and put some space between us so he could wipe my eyes dry with his shirt. It sounded like he was more surprised that I had been talking to people than in any confusion over who I meant. He had met them once before with Mom and me.

“Yeah, we ran into each other at Dr. Deville’s and we ended up going for lunch together and talking, then they gave me a ride home. They gave me their numbers too, so we can keep in contact while I’m at Whateley,” I explained.

Dad smiled and winked. “Look at you, making friends already.”

“Well, I sorta already knew them, Dad. It’s gonna be a lot harder with strangers, but I’ll try.”

“That’s my girl. That’s all we ask. If you try and just be yourself, you’ll make friends in no time. Maybe not a lot, but I’ve always found that quality is more important than quantity. Speaking of quality though, let’s eat. You probably didn’t get the message since you were busy cooking, but your mom is going to be late tonight. The celebrity that they’re providing extra security for right now had to delay her flight out of town until later tonight.”

I was a little disappointed that Mom was going to be late since I wanted to get my apology over with. We set some dinner aside for her before we ate, though it would have to be reheated whenever she got home. The meal wasn’t too bad for my first attempt on my own, it was edible at least, though I prefer meat over veggies.

After dinner, I helped Dad out by growing some rare flowers that he needed for a wedding order and almost four dozen Christmas arrangements. Arranging the flowers properly took a lot more time than using my powers to grow them did. Usually, Mom helped with this kind of stuff when Dad had big orders coming up but since we weren’t sure when she was going to be home he asked me to help instead.

He said that it would be good father-daughter time before I had to go off to school across the country. I never realized how much work and artistry Dad put into his flower arrangements before. I also got to go into Mom’s seed vault to get the seeds for the flowers we needed. Usually, I tried to avoid that room because I was afraid of accidentally disturbing things or messing with her storage system.

The seed vault was one of our two spare bedrooms that was pretty much wall-to wall shelves lined with containers of various seeds, many of them rare flower varieties for Dad’s shop. A lot of them she used to grow the plants that she used when supporting her teammates in combat though. She had poison ivy, bamboo, vines, prickly pears, rose bushes, and a bunch of other plant seeds that she could use to irritate or lock down their opponents so her teammates could have an advantage.

It took almost three hours for us to finish the various arrangements and bouquets that Dad needed and store them in the cooler that he had built in our basement. During that time, I learned more about flower arranging than I had ever wanted to know. My flowers don’t need arranging, thank you very much.

It was half past midnight when Mom finally got home, still wearing her costume under her coat. Dad had already gone to bed and I was on the couch half-watching the television and starting to get drowsy as I read through the information packet on Whateley Academy that Mom had left in the kitchen after our fight. The sound of the door opening shocked me awake.

“Hey, Mom,” I called out as I tried to shake myself awake enough for this conversation. “There’s… umm… dinner in the fridge, it just needs to be warmed up. I made beef stew, stuffed peppers, and some dinner rolls. I could… maybe warm it up and make us some of that tea you like, the mint and licorice root blend.”

“Clover, what are you doing still up? Wait, you cooked?”

While she was still trying to process my words, I got up and went to the kitchen to put some water on to boil and warm up Mom’s dinner in the microwave. I was already putting a mix of herbs in a tea ball when she walked into the kitchen and regarded me with a tired and uncertain look, bordering on suspicion. It didn’t really surprise me though, since Dad had thought I was pulling something as well.

“Mom, I was kinda hoping that we could talk about the Whateley stuff,” I started hesitantly as I put the tea ball in the teapot and reached for a couple of mugs from the counter. She sighed and I quickly cut off whatever she was about to say in reply, pushing forward before I lost my nerve. “I… I just wanted to say that… I’m sorry about what I said last night, and how I acted. I… thought that maybe we could get started working on that list and stuff that you mentioned.”

Mom didn’t say anything at first, she just wrapped me up in both pairs of arms and held me tight. “Not that I’m complaining, but what changed your mind?”

I hugged her back just as tightly. “I talked to some friends. They helped me out, gave me some good advice, and made me realize that you were right and maybe this Whateley place won’t be so bad.”

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Mesa, Arizona
The Rozic Residence
Sunday, December 25th, 2016 – 6:32 p.m.

“Dinner’s ready! Everyone to the dining room!” Aunt Becky called out.

“You heard her, little ones, it’s time to go! Let’s eat! I’ve been waiting for this all day!” Kaede babbled, poking me incessantly with her toe. “Step away from the dollies and let’s go!”

I rolled my eyes and stuck my tongue out to give her a good ole raspberry from my place on the floor beside Sierra, where we had been playing with our dolls. Mostly I had been humoring the little one and keeping her out of mischief since she had come into the kitchen when I was helping Mom and Aunt Becky to make dinner to beg me to play with her. She had decided that since I didn’t have any dolls of my own that she would give me one for Christmas this year. Aunt Kayla said that she even chose it herself.

“You don’t get to call me a little one, Kaede, I’m a whole inch taller than you now,” I teased. “And you know, if you were so eager to have dinner ready then you could have helped with it like I did.”

“No fair, going for my weak spots, Clover! You know they won’t let me help in the kitchen anymore. It’s been four years, you’d think that they’d trust me again, but noooo! I honestly thought it would cook faster with more heat!”

“The outside did,” I taunted as I hopped up to my feet and picked Sierra up with my uppermost pair of vines. “Come on, Sierra, we can play more after dinner.” Then I got her giggling as I carried her like that to the dining room and tickled her mercilessly with my lower vines.

Kaede followed behind, making a show of pouting. “Almost set the kitchen on fire one time…”

“Funny, since Uncle Ben is the one with the fire powers. You’re sand, aren’t you supposed to, like, put them out?” I teased again as I placed the giggling five-year-old in her chair.

“I was the one that had to put it out too,” Uncle Ben offered helpfully from his chair while wearing a huge grin.

“Well, Amanda and I don’t do well with fire,” Dad pointed out while I took the seat beside Sierra.

Aunt Becky got in on it too. “The one Christmas I couldn’t be there to put out a fire with my water powers, and you let Kaede help cook. That’s why we come here to celebrate every year; I can’t risk it happening again.”

“Nah, we come here every year because this is our family, the one that matters,” Aunt Lucia said as she leaned over to kiss her girlfriend.

“I’ll drink to that,” Uncle Damon said, raising his glass of soda. “To family!”

We all raised our glasses to toast, even Sierra. Then chaos descended as plates were filled from the bounty on the table. We had just started eating when Aunt Becky asked, “Are you all ready to head to Whateley in the New Year, Clover?”

“Uhh… sorta? I’m really nervous about going and trying to make friends there. It probably would have been easier if I had gone in the fall like Mom originally wanted me to. Mom and I are going to have to go and get me some clothes more suitable for winter in New Hampshire too. I’m part plant so I’m a bit worried about the cold.”

“Shopping trip!” Kaede and Aunt Kayla practically squealed in unison.

Sierra slumped in her chair beside me and pouted. “I dun want Clover to go, she’s my favoritest cousin.”

“Sweetie, I’m your onlyest cousin,” I pointed out before ruffling her hair and adding, “but you’re my favoritest too. I’ll be back for the summer and we can spend lots of time together then. Maybe we can do more sleepovers, make flower crowns, and play together like we did last night. I’m a little worried about making friends there, but at least I know that I have you, even if we’re far apart.”

The sleepover had been Aunt Kayla’s idea. With me only really feeling comfortable being my new self around family, I had rarely left home except when doing something like shopping with Mom, going to my appointments with Dr. Deville, and babysitting Sierra once or twice a month. She had gotten over her discomfort around me since I had manifested and now I was one of her ‘favoritest’ people again. Which was why she thought that I needed a doll of my own.

Aunt Kayla was worried that Sierra would miss me when I left next week and had suggested the sleepover to give us some extra time together before it happened. I couldn’t say no to that cute little face so we spent Christmas Eve together having a slumber party and playing, though I had made sure that she was asleep before Santa was due to come. This morning, when she had woken up at 5 a.m. squealing excitedly about Christmas being here and running around the house like an insane jackrabbit on devisor coffee, I had joined right in. For her sake, of course.

“You’ll make friends in no time, Honey,” Mom offered encouragingly. “Just… if you end up hanging around with the Dylans like your dad and I did when we were at Whateley, be careful.”

“The Dylans?” I asked in utter confusion.

“You know,” Dad said with a smile, “Everybody must get stoned. Your mother was popular with them because she could grow premium weed in no time flat. We were at one of their parties when you were… uhh… Anyway, your mother is right, Clover. Be careful if you hang out with them, especially around lighters. There was this one time when they were really stoned and they tried to smoke her.”

“That… is not a hazard that I was expecting to be warned about, like, ever,” I replied with a stunned shake of my head.

Mom started to laugh hysterically, probably at the perplexed expression on my face. Once she had avoided choking on a mouthful of turkey and could breathe and talk normally again, she said with a grin, “Well that is one thing about Whateley, Honey. At least it’s never boring.”

 

The End

Read 1099 times Last modified on Tuesday, 27 December 2022 22:58
More in this category: « Misguided Genius (Part 1)

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