News on the Nines
Serial, updated sporadically. Lucas is in on the story of his young life. The cheerleaders at his high school are clearly practicing witchcraft. Or possibly vampires. Maybe werewolves? Well, whatever it takes, he'll get to the bottom of the story. Warning! It’s unfinished.
News on the Nines
by Joe Six-Pack
Lucas Fields knew how the whole thing started. As an eager, aspiring journalist, he was on the trail of the biggest story of his career. That career, however, was only about two months long - seeing as how he had only been on the staff of his high school's newspaper for half the semester.
But despite that, Lucas knew he had a story that could blow the doors off the whole school. It was big. Big big big. Heck, this was local TV news material.
It had started with his ex-girlfriend, Becky Misner. Becky was a looker, an 'early developer' that was growing up quick. That's what had attracted Lucas in the first place. Well, maybe it was the only thing that he ever found attractive about her, but he had always held out some hope that she'd relax and stop being so stuck up one of these days. He still thought she'd put out under the right conditions.
That was until she had gone and tried to join the cheerleading squad. It was something Lucas had encouraged her to do, becasue it would give him one of the top prizes in school - a cheerleader girlfriend. But Becky was on the squad only for about two weeks before she quit.
Soon after, she broke up with Lucas in a huge hissy fit. What had been the perfect relationship for Lucas had blown up in his face. It wasn't right. He didn't do anything to deserve this. And it was just against the natural order of his world for the girl to leave him - before he had a chance to dump her. That oddity wasn't the only thing that tripped Lucases' keen journalistic senses. What Lucas noticed was that immediately after leaving the squad, Becky started to dress all frumpy, transferred out of her French language class and her Cooking class and signed up for Art and Biology.
She threw away her contacts and took to wearing thick-lensed glasses. She started to use black lipstick, coloring her skin bleach white and dying her hair somewhere between black and purple. And she was hanging out with the Chess Club. It was like she had just given up on being the hottie she was.
Then Lucas started to notice it happening to other girls. They'd leave the squad and start to act like geekoids and do the weirdest things. They'd start taking boring classes and hanging out with the unpopular kids. Most started to run with the science crowd, and some would hook up with the student council dorks. One girl had even gone totally lesbo.
And even stranger, Lucas realized that the girls who stayed on the squad, the girls who never left, became the most popular girls in the school. Even borderline date material like Heather Frohman and Petra Jacoby who had never made a dent in the popular cliques had become high school superstars of popularity, changing their looks and personalities to match.
Lucas didn't know exactly what was happening, but the Cheerleading Squad was doing something. Something strange. Something not of this world. They were changing girls into trendy babes and geeky losers. It was as if they held some sort of magical powers over the girls and decided what their ultimate fate would be.
What a story - witchcraft in the public schools. He knew that this story was his first great calling in life. This was the story that would propel Lucas into the stratosphere of the rising stars in journalism. He'd be like the Tiger Woods of news.
Only after taking Newspaper class for a week, now Lucas knew that this one story would make him into the journalist his teachers said he couldn't be. They laughed at his stories: "The Bell Conspiracy," about the conspiracy to ring the hall bell thirty seconds earlier so more kids would be tardy and build up detention points and therefore be placed in detention hall for lunch. Why couldn't they see the truth? And they ignored his story "Exchange Student Terrorist Spies," where Lucas had proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Japanese exchange student Hideo was taking photos and writing home with every detail of his trip to America.
Now he had the story that would prove them all wrong and shut them up. Who would be laughing at him now? No one! They would all eat their words when they read about it. A coven of witches were draining popularity from girls and using it for themselves! Like vampires! Wait - vampire witches? Cheerleader vampire witches!? This story was getting better all the time!
One thing was still giving a problem, though. He needed to get someone on the inside. That was the only way he was going to be able to get the info he needed. Without an insider funneling him the details, he'd have to make everything up. And his journalism teacher was very insistent that he wasn't allowed to do that. Which was stupid, but those were the rules.
So he tried to get a few girls to try out for the squad. But they wanted nothing to do with the cheerleaders, or Lucas, or the 'stupid' school paper. He asked maybe five or six girls he knew before he started to beg. That didn't work either. He even was desperate enough to ask Becky to try out again, but she just broke down and cried. She was so weird.
Finally, he confessed the whole plan to his best friend Solomon: how he had the story a journalist dreamed of, how he was just on the edge of busting it wide open, and how desperately he wanted to get it. He told him about all the girls he had been trying to get to go undercover. He even said 'jokingly' that he was so desperate to get this story he'd dress up and go undercover to get it.
But it got Sol thinking. Lucas could probably get away with looking like a girl with some help. He wasn't tall, and he was thin, and he still had the face of a little kid, so it wasn't impossible.
"You could, you know." Sol suggested.
Lucas hadn't been following his own line of thought. "I could what?"
"Okay. You need an undercover operative to get inside the squad, right? Now you haven't been able to find a girl to do it, right?" Sol said, squaring his jaw. "Right?"
"But you're determined to get the story, right?"
"Well, then you could..."
Lucas stopped him right there. "I know what you're thinking and I won't do it... Don't even think about it."
"Okay." Sol shrugged. "It was just an idea."
"But it's stupid."
Lucas tapped his chin in thought. "But you know what might work instead? What If I dessed up like a cheerleader... and tried out for the squad!?" Lucas was excited about this new idea. "Now THERE'S an idea!"
Sol just wondered why he even hung out with this lump. "It... might work," he mumbled.
"That's what I'll do! An undercover expose!" He was practically shouting. "It will be the biggest story the world has ever seen!!"
The squad was made up of nine girls on the varsity squad. Actually, there were only eight since Becky had left the team. In total, there were about seventeen boys and girls involved in the various levels of cheering and spirit dancing, but the main group were nine girls. And that number was how they sometimes referred to themselves: "The Nines." Each member of The Nines had a necklace. A thin gold chain necklace that had a golden number "9" hanging from it.
The Nines. It made them sound mysterious. Secretive. Exclusive. And maybe all having group lesbian sex orgies? Well, that's what Lucas liked to think.
With all the mystery, it didn't take a lot imagination to think that they had secret rituals they performed in private. And that's what Lucas had: not a lot of imagination. The signs of witchcraft and vampires were so obvious to him. There was no doubt a sinister force was behind their peppy facade.
So, now, how to do it? How could Lucas transform himself into the one of "The Nines?" He started his exhaustive research by gathering up all the Playboy magazines he had stashed around his room and meticulously analyzing the nuances of what made a girl a girl. Page by page, he studied closely. Page by shiny page. What did he decide was the most important part of the feminine mystique?
He needed boobs. Big ones.
Lucas stuffed his shirt with a rolled up towel. He looked in his bedroom mirror. Not good enough. He needed a bigger towel.
After taking care of that, the image still wasn't quite right. What more could there be? Yes. He had it. He needed lipstick. Lacking any lipstick lying around his room, he used some red permanent marker on his lips.
Looking in the mirror, Lucas still felt something was missing. Eye shadow. All the really sophisticated girls wore that. So Lucas found a blue ballpoint pen and scribbled over his eyelids. Which hurt.
But when he had that done, he didn't even bother to look at himself in the mirror. He knew he looked hot. So Lucas decided to test it out by walking down to movie theatre and watching boys drool over him.
"I'll be back in a few hours!" Lucas yelled out into his house as he left. Fortunately, his Uncle wasn't there to see him, or else there'd have been hell to pay.
Driving down the street in his 1989 Chevrolet Cavalier, Sol was trying to get his car out of second gear, foolling with the radio and steering with his knees when he happened to look up at the road. Something caught his eye and caused him to slam on his brakes. He practically jammed them right through the floor.
"Lucas." He said to himself. It was impossible to even comprehend what he had just seen. But he had to be sure. "LUCAS!" He yelled out his window.
And the person on the sidewalk turned their head. It was him. Sol was dumbfounded.
From where he sat, his friend was walking down the sidewalk, apparently smuggling luggage in his shirt and recently accosted by an Avon saleslady with glaucoma. "What the hell are you doing!?" Sol yelled from his car.
Lucas, realizing his mistake then pretended not to know who Sol was. After a chorus of car horns drowned out Sol's pleas, he pulled his car out of traffic and got out of his car.
"Lucas!" Sol called after him. "Get over here!"
Lucas just began to quicken his pace, and Sol responded by running after him. "I don't know you!" Lucas cried. "Get away from me!"
They were both running at full speed as they round the corner. "You look like an idiot!!" Sol yelled. "Get into the car before someone sees you!"
"Stay away from me, you strange man!" Lucas shrieked. "Help! Rape!" He yelled louder. "RAPE!!"
This little keystone cops routine finally ended when Sol took him down with a flying tackle. It took some convincing, but Sol was able to talk Lucas into getting into the car. If there was one thing he needed to do this year, it was to get a better class of friends, Sol told himself.
It wasn't until Lucas had told all about his plan that it actually registered with Sol that he was trying to disguise himself as a girl. The two boys were secluded out in Sol's parent's garage, where no one could see them.
"You don't have a clue." Sol told him. Lucas was offended. He knew it was a brilliant disguise.
"I," Lucas said, pointing to himself, "am a master of disguise."
Sol shook his head. Frustrated with Lucas's stubborn insistence on his own brilliance, he just grabbed Lucas and dragged him by the arm into his house. Sol wasn't the least bit athletic, but he was big, and he had no problem controlling his smaller and scrawnier captive.
He practically tossed Lucas into the house, and pushed him upstairs. Instead of going to his room, though, he steered Lucas into Sol's sister's room.
Marie was her name, and she was fourteen. They had caught her on the phone, yakking away. When she noticed the intrusion she made a scowling face of rage. But when she saw Lucas, she started to giggle. The phone then fell from her hand, and she dropped to the floor laughing uncontrollably.
"Master of disguise." Sol said, mockingly.
"You must have told her it was me ahead of time." Lucas replied.
Marie crawled to her phone where she managed to say "I'll call you back" in between fits of cackling.
Eventually, Sol did manage to drive his point home to Lucas. In the face of massive evidence to the contrary, Lucas slowly realized there may be flaws in his appearance. It helped that Marie couldn't stop laughing, even after an hour had passed.
"Seriously, what are you trying to do, Lucas?" Marie asked him.
"Well, I have this story." He admitted. "I have to go undercover as a cheerleader."
And then Marie started to tear up as the laughter came back. She couldn't stop it, and burst out whooping and howling again.
But once she had gained control of herself, Marie set Lucas straight. She showed him her array of cosmetics and her array of hair products. She showed off the razors, the tweezers, and the wax she had to use every day. She even brought out one of her bras to compare with the beach towel he had stuffed in his shirt, and how ridiculous he looked. Her point? This is what it took for her to get ready every day. And she had a head start by being a girl already.
He did seem to get it. "So, uh, what do I need to do then?" He asked her.
And he asked the right person. Because Marie was just growing up, and diving deep into the world of fashion and beauty products. Although she was too young to have the experience, she knew where to look for help. The internet.
Sol and Lucas looked on as Marie surfed around the internet, showing where you could buy the hippest clothes, and the newest accessories. She pointed them to pages on makeup and how to apply it, pages on hair and how to style it.
There were sites for girls to read, with everything anyone ever wanted to know about being a trendy young girl. There were sites on cheerleading, too. Not just sites about the routines, but lifestyle sites about everything that went with living in the cheerleading universe.
And most importantly, there were sites about how to make a man look like a woman. Dozens! There were links to places where you could get plastic breasts and wigs. They even had this one thing that would make a penis "invisible." If that was indeed, a good thing.
"You taking notes?" Sol asked Lucas. There were a lot of things to remember.
"Yeah." Lucas said. He pointed to his head. "In my mind. Like a steel trap."
"Uh..." Sol said to Marie. "Why don't you write this all down for us."
"All of it?" Marie replied, whining. "There's so much."
Sol had to think. There was a lot to do. Lucas would never be able to handle this by himself. He was lucky enough to tie his shoes every day. Sol was going to have to help, and he had no desire to get himself in that deep. "Hey." An idea struck him. "Why don't you help him out?" Sol said to Marie.
"For money." Sol clarified. "Mom's been getting on you to do more babysitting and tutor kids at school for extra money. Well, you can tutor Lucas."
"Yeah!" Lucas replied. He had been dreading all of this work as well. He would need a lot of help. "That would be great!"
"I don't know..." Marie said, unsure.
"Five bucks an hour." Sol said.
"What?" Lucas yelped. He was thinking like a buck or something.
"I make six babysitting." Marie said, bargaining.
"Seven." Sol answered. It was a lot easier to bargain with other people's money.
"Deal." Marie smiled.
A day later, Lucas showed up at Sol's house. He had been promised that the parents were gone, and whatever Marie had planned wouldn't cause him any extra embarrassment. It was a Thursday afternoon, after a half-day "in-service" day at school, leading into a three day weekend. Marie had left strict instructions to be ready to spend the entire holiday weekend at their house, to get in as much instruction as possible.
When he arrived at the house, he found the front door locked. Puzzled, he walked around to the back and checked that door as well. Taped on the inside of the door window was a note: "Lucas: Go To The Garage!"
At the two-car garage, Lucas found the main door locked shut, but a small side door open. He went inside, and found the insides near pitch black, except for a light over a small table. On top of it, there was another note that said: "Hey, Lucas! Put these on, and we can get started!" On the table there were three straps. One read "neck" and the two others said "left wrist" and "right wrist."
Lucas held them up to examine them. Before he could really get a good look at them, a voice came from the darkness. "We don't have all day! C'mon! We've got a lot to cover!"
"Marie?" Lucas said into the dark. "Where are you?"
"Just making some last minute arrangements." Marie responded. The door Lucas had come through then made a noise, as if it were being locked. "Just making sure no one else comes in."
"Good." Lucas said. He put the bands on his wrists and neck. "What are these, anyway?"
"Do you have them on?" Marie asked.
"Where are you?" Lucas said. He still couldn't pinpoint the direction of her voice. No answer came. He figured she was waiting for him to finish with the straps. "They're on."
"Yes! Tight!" Lucas snapped. "Now where are you?"
Without comment, the room then lit up fully. Lucas had to shield his eyes for a minute from the brightness. "What's this supposed to be?" He asked. In the corner of the near-empty garage was a couple of cardboard boxes, in another corner was a desk with a mirror. A rack of clothes was along the wall to the left, and to the right, a small boom box and television set.
Lucas walked around for a minute, surveying. "Where are you?" He asked again, noticing that Marie was not in fact in the room.
"I'm up here." Marie said.
Lucas looked up, and saw a speaker affixed to the rafters. Next to it was a small video camera. "What the fuck's going on here, Marie?" He walked over to the door to test it. "Where's Sol? Is this locked from the outside!?"
"Because we shouldn't be interrupted."
Lucas was getting angry. "I asked what these straps were for."
"They're electrodes. There's enough current running through them to knock an elephant dead."
"They’re WHAT!?" Lucas yelped in horror. He grabbed at the straps.
"Don't make me zap you, Lucas!" Marie yelled.
"I'm not going to have these things..."
"All, right, you've forced to me."
The sound of an electric shock filled the room. It caused Lucas to fall to his knees.
"Get up on your feet, Maggot!" Marie barked through the speaker.
Still hearing that horrible shocking sound. Lucas instinctively grabbed for the strap around his neck. BZZZT!! BZZZ!T!! As soon as he tried, the sounds became louder and louder.
"Don't touch the collars, Maggot!!" Marie yelled.
Despite her warnings, Lucas continued to grab for them. BZZZT!! "Yaaagh!!" Lucas yelled, falling over to his side.
A long minute passed, as Lucas regained his wits and got his breathing under control. "Do we understand each other, Maggot!?" Marie yelled. When no response came, BZZZZT!! "Do we UNDERSTAND each other!!?" Marie repeated.
Lucas nodded affirmative.
"Good." Marie said. "Now let's make one thing straight. I don't like you and you don't like me. I DON'T CARE! I've been given an assignment, and you're going to DO what I say now. You're not in control of your life anymore. Your life is MINE. I tell you when to sleep, I tell you when to talk, I tell you when to eat. I tell you EVERYTHING!!" Marie growled.
"What..." Lucas tried to say.
"I said, I'll TELL you when you can TALK!!" Marie said angrily. "I can always turn the voltage up!!"
Lucas just laid there in the fetal position, afraid to move. Heck, he was afraid to breathe.
"Now are you going to do what I say?"
Lucas refused to move.
"Are you going to do what I say?"
Lucas didn't budge.
"You're still paying me seven dollars an hour, you know." Marie said, frustrated.
Lucas got up on his knees. "I'll... I'll do what you say." He said, bitterly. "But I won't like it!"
Marie was sitting up in her room, watching the TV. She and Sol had hooked it up to the home video camera, hidden in the rafters of the garage. She could see everything on her little monitor. "No! Don't touch the eyeshadow until you've finished the foundation! BZZZZT!!!"
A microphone was set up on her desk, which she was speaking into, as she lazily read over a magazine. "I don't want to turn this up to full power, Lucas!"
Sol stopped by to check in on things. He whispered, "How's it going?"
Marie covered the microphone with her hand. "Boring. You pick the dumbest friends. I swear to God."
"Tell me about it." Sol replied. "Where are you?"
"I've got him talking in the right tone of voice, and I think he's getting the hang of walking." She glanced back at the screen and uncovered the mike. "That color doesn't go with your skintone! BZZZZT!! Start over, scum!!"
She covered the mike again. "And now we're doing makeup and color. Next It's clothing. Then I think we'll cover girl talk and hair care."
"You're really working him hard." Sol said, checking his watch. "You've already been at it for about eight hours."
"Ha." Marie said without smiling. "That's nothing. We're going to go another sixteen before we're done."
"He's going to be completely out of his mind by then."
"Yeah, and then we'll do the whole thing all over again."
"Jeesus. That'll destroy him." Sol said, not caring nearly as much as he thought he would. "Are you sure?"
"It's a basic technique of behavioral conditioning. Sleep deprivation, tearing down of character and repetition."
"And electric shocks." Sol smirked to himself.
Marie uncovered the mic to shout at Lucas. "No!! That's all wrong! BZZZTTT!! Now I want you start all over again! We're going to do over and over again until you get it right! BZZZTT!!"
"Do you think he's going to realize you're just making a 'Bzzt' sound in the microphone?" Sol asked.
"Or that he's just wearing sweatbands wrapped in aluminum foil? He hasn't figured it out so far." Marie flipped a page of the magazine she was reading. "Kinda stupid, isn't he?"
"Maggot!" The harsh voice over the speaker yelled.
In the poorly lit, bare garage, Lucas was on his knees. Overnight, it had cooled off in here. But now, in the sun, it was an oven. Lucas had lost ten pounds, just in sweat.
It had been a horrible night. He wasn't allowed any sleep. Looking at the light coming through the cracks, he knew it had been about two days since he had been able to sleep. He had gone beyond craving sleep, beyond need for rest, into a never-ending state of zombification. He had disassociated himself with his physical being. The body and mind were doing what they were told. What small nugget of conscious thought and free will he had were hidden away deep in the folds of his mind.
"This is your final test, Scum!" The voice yelled. "Don't screw it up this time! Now get up and get ready for your date!"
On automatic, Lucas got up on his feet and stumbled over to a couple of cardboard boxes lined up. Next to it, a rusting folding chair was in front of beaten workbench. Behind it, a large musty mirror reflected his image.
But in Lucas's clouded mind, the two boxes were a luxurious bed with a pink comforter. The workbench was a vanity. The folding chair was a pink stool with a velvety cushion to sit on.
Why did he see these things? Because the voice told him to see these things. He couldn't fight the voice anymore. He did what the voice wanted him to do. He thought what the voice told him to think. He saw what the voice told him to see.
"Like I taught you, Maggot!" The voice commanded.
Immediately, the tired stumble corrected itself. Lucas now scampered over to the vanity, as any excited teenage girl would getting ready for the big date. The tired, haggard expression on his face was quickly replaced with a bright smile. He grabbed a brush and started brushing his hair into the feminine style he had been told to. While he was doing this, he was looking into the mirror, still smiling. "I wonder where he'll take me tonight?" Lucas said, in a pitch-perfect female voice he had been practicing until he was hoarse.
"Everything must be perfect!" He said, dreamily.
Because he knew it must be perfect. This was the final test. He had screwed it up twice already. If only he could get it right, he'd be done. The voice said so. Just get through this without screwing up, and he could finally... No. Just to think of sleep was to cringe in pain. The goal wasn't sleep. The goal was to please the voice. Me must please the voice.
He stripped off the sweats he was wearing and revealed the bra and panty set he had on underneath. "What will I wear?" He said, looking at the vast array of delicate female clothing. In reality it was just a couple of old, shapeless dresses Marie had stolen from the attic, but in Lucas's version of reality, he was convinced he saw a rack of lovely dresses, cute tops and flirty skirts.
He dressed himself in one of the dresses and then slipped on the one pair of high heels he had been given. Walking in them like he had bee born to wear them, Lucas minced back over to the vanity. He had been practicing walking for seemingly unending hours upon hours, and it was now natural for him to walk gracefully on his toes and let his hands and arms float at his sides. He sat and smiled at his image in the mirror. "I want to look sexy for him." Lucas said to his reflection.
He had been drilled about makeup. He was prepared for this. Just do what he'd already done a hundred times, he reminded himself. The voice had told him that makeup wasn't an art, it was a science. A science of attraction. The idea was to make the face look perfect. Prefect meant large eyes. High cheekbones. Smooth skin. Flush cheeks. Colored lips.
Certain types of hair went with certain types of clothes. Certain types of clothes went with certain types of makeup. Certain types of makeup went with certain types of hair.
It was science.
Lucas's now-practiced hands deftly applied the various creams, lotions and powders to his face. He clipped, spritzed and patted his hair into place.
He checked his nails. He checked his perfume. He checked everything. Was he ready? Could he finally get out of this living nightmare?
"Preeeee-sent!" The voice commanded.
Lucas quickly got to his feet and stood board-straight. It was time for his inspection.
One silent minute passed. A second followed. Lucas stood still, keeping that smile on his face and not daring to sweat. He was told he must never sweat.
"Today," The voice said in the empty room, "you are a girl."
Lucas cried in joy.
Sol, with Lucas slung over his shoulder, dropped his friend at his doorstep. Lucas was out cold, unable to be woken by anything less than his head being placed inside a air-raid siren. Sol struggled up the steps to the front door and he rang the doorbell. After a prolonged wait, Lucas's Uncle Curtis appeared at the door. Sol didn't like him. He was kinda creepy.
"Looks like you boys had quite a night." The man observed.
Sol just wanted to go. "Yeah. Up late." He forgot what story he had fed this man to excuse Lucas's absence for the last two days.
"Hope you two kept your nose out of trouble." Uncle Curtis added with a friendly grin.
Lucas suddenly opened his eyes and came to life. "I'm a pretty girl!" He shouted out loud. Just as quickly, Lucas then collapsed and went unconscious.
Sol looked at the surprised eyes of Uncle Curtis and then scratched the back of his head. He took a deep breath through his nose, exhaled then dug his hands in his pockets. "Yeah. So, I'll see you later," he said, and walked off back home.
"Oh, hi!" Lucas said, walking out into the middle of an active cheerleading practice. "Um... I'm new here and... I was just, you know, like, wondering how I could become a cheerleader!?" He tossed his head around with every word he spoke, to emphasize the ditzyness.
It was a sunny, bright day, and Lucas had fully recovered from his "training." Under Marcie's direction, he had dressed in the standard uniform of the sort of girls he was trying to emulate. A tank top, a denim miniskirt and wedge shoes. He also wore a cheerleader-quality blond wig.
Although a little discombobulated, Lucas was passing. And passing very well. Even the latest Department of Defense-funded gaydar systems wouldn't have picked him up. As far as anyone cared to notice, he was just another girl.
One of the girls, presumably the leader of this tribe, bounded into Lucas's face. "Well, um, do you want the team to win?"
He had to think carefully about his answer. What was the right thing to say? "Yeah!" Lucas replied.
"How bad?" The girl asked.
Another quizzer. Lucas pondered the correct response. "Um, like real real bad!"
"Okay." The girl bit her lip in concentration. She looked like she was going to test him now. "So bad you'd, like... kill yourself if we didn't win?"
Lucas thought hard. "So bad, I'd kill everyone I know and THEN kill myself if we didn't win!"
"I like your spirit!" The girl replied. "We'll have a try-out the day after tomorrow at three in the gym!"
And then a few of the girls started to scream and jump for joy. They sprang into the air like popping corn, shrieking a high-pitched scream of excitement. Without any real choice, Lucas joined them. It wasn’t THIS easy to get the try-out, was it?
Maybe it was.
"When I say cartwheels, I MEAN CARTHEELS, MAGGOT!" The voice commanded. "Arms out! Legs straight! Like the spokes of a wheel!"
Lucas did what the voice said. He dare not disobey the voice. He threw his arms out and spun himself upwards to do the perfect cartweel.
How had he found himself back in the garage again? Why did he fall for it? All he said to Marie was that he needed some practice to do cheers, and the next thing he knew, she was telling him to come back to the garage for a "follow up session."
"You won't put the shock collar on me again, will you?" He asked.
"No," Marie replied.
"You won't make me stay up for days, will you?"
"Of course not."
But no sooner had he stepped inside then he heard the door lock shut. And now it was "Spokes of a wheel! Bzzzt!"
"How's he doing?" Sol asked, passing by his sister's room.
Marie looked as bored as a person could. "Oh, he's actually doing pretty good. He could probably get on the team right now. I just want to see him do it a few more times. I need the hours he paying me for. But this is the last time. Tell Lucas he's going to have to find someone else to torture him."
Sol shrugged. "I saw him at school yesterday. You should have seen it. He couldn't help but walk around with a swing to his hips. He was even talking in that voice you made him use."
"That's why they call it behavioral conditioning." Marie glanced at the screen. She picked up the microphone. "When I say do the splits, I expect to see those ass cheeks on the ground! Bzzzzt!"
A faint scream came from the speakers on Marie's TV monitor.
She returned to Sol. "So, did Mom talk to you about her new job? She hasn't said anything to me about it."
"No." Sol said. "I think she's still waiting to hear back."
"I want to see you kick so high your knees touch your ears! Bzzzt!" Marie yelled into the mike. Then she put it aside. "Maybe when she comes home."
"Did she say what she was making for dinner?"
"I'm not sure if she..."
"Hey!" Shouted Lucas's voice from the tinny speaker on Marie's TV. "These things are just aluminum foil!"
This was the moment he had been dreading. He knew he looked passable, he knew he had the act down. Still, it was a different matter to actually carry it out.
He swallowed hard as he stepped out into the gym. Lucas was dressed in a loose pink tank top and loose baggy cutoff sweats over some pink bike shorts. His wig, firmly connected to his hair, was tied up in a low pony-tail to keep it out of his face.
To the side, a rickety government-issued folding table was set up in front of a few tired, disintegrating gym mats. A trio of girls sat at the table with Mrs. Polsey, the pep squad coordinator. This was the most nervous moment in Lucas’ life. This was the deepest pit he had ever fallen into. This was Lucas's try-out for cheerleading. "Okay." One of the girls asked. "Are you ready... Christine?"
Ugh. Why had he chosen that name? But he had to put something down on the form. No use in looking back – what was done was done. "You bet!" Lucas replied in a chirpy, upbeat tone. If he could have passed this try-out just on the merits of how much he sounded like a cheerleader, he would’ve just been elected captain for life. The training was clearly paying off.
And it was a good thing, too, because as the hi-N-R-G tune Marie had selected for him kicked in, the routine he had been drilled on sent Lucas leaping, kicking and tumbling all over the place. He was a dynamo of energy. Up, down, left, right. He had never been able to get his body to do anything even vaguely like this before, so he was more than a little stunned to hind himself vaulting so high into the air. He was so surprised, he barely even paid attention to the insipid cheers coming from his own mouth.
But did he have what it took to be one of The Nines?
The thing was, no one truly liked The Nines. Everyone was nice to them in public, but behind their back, they were vicious. Maybe it was different in other schools, but at Fairfax, they were a clique intimidatingly attractive girls who had the collective IQ of a small Chia Pet, and walked around the school oblivious to the envy and hatred they were the targets of. Individually, people liked the girls. They were very popular as persons. Boys would kill for a date with one of them. Girls wanted to be like one of them. But in a group, they were loathed. As a group, when you got them together, that same trait of honesty that was sweet when you were one-on-one with them turned deadly. They thought nothing about criticizing someone. Their clothes, their hair, their body. Maybe they didn’t truly know they had such a devastating impact on people by saying honest – but brutal – truths.
The girls who wanted to be like them would break down and cry. They boys who wanted to date them would run and hide. Just simple looks of approval and disapproval from The Nines were enough to send students to the heights of popularity or the depths of loneliness. And for this, people hated The Nines.
Of course, the school administration was always bending over backwards to accommodate them, by letting them off hours early on game days, letting them throw a pep rally on any old day they cared to, and dressing up the hallways with annoying signs and banners. And who the heck cared about "school spirit" anyway? Sure, everyone wanted the school teams to win, but it wasn't like it was a matter of life and death or anything.
But the cheerleaders seemed to treat it like such. They'd even break into classes to do cheers and ask perfectly innocent kids to declare their "school spirit" on the spot in front of their friends. It was embarrassing and humiliating. And this all wouldn't be so bad if they could be reasoned with. These girls were so wrapped up in their go-team rah-rah lives that they had no ability to deal with anything else. You couldn't talk to them about schoolwork, you couldn't talk to them about the world. And most irritating of all to Lucas, you couldn't get them on a date unless you were a lunk-headed jock.
What was worse? Being the idiot who was out there getting themselves killed to win pointless games and get a date, or being the idiot who cheered the idiot on? As far as Lucas was concerned, it would be a pleasure and a privilege to take these nitwits down. He’d be doing everyone a favor.
When the music stopped, Lucas found himself posed with a pom-pom in the air, another on his hip, and his legs spread apart. Now finished, he found his muscles sour from the work. Not his body, mind you, but the muscles in his cheeks, from the wide smile plastered on his face fro the last few minutes.
The girl who had spoke earlier smiled back. "We've got practice tomorrow night after school at four." She got up and came forward to Lucas. "Don't be late." She extended her hand for a handshake.
Lucas had made it. He had actually made it. He meant to grab the hand offered to him, but instead, something made him hug the girl while he squealed with joy. The happiness and exhilaration was consuming him. All that hard work. All those days trapped in the garage. It was so relieving.
After thanking everyone profusely, and oh-so-girlishly gushing with joy, Lucas excused himself from the gym. He had to go tell Sol. He skipped out of the gym and found Sol waiting for him. His car was idling, ready to go. "So?" Sol asked.
Lucas hugged Sol through the drivers’ window. “I made it!’ He chirped.
Like someone flipped a switch back to the male position, Lucas quickly let go of Sol and turned away. He gave Sol a thumbs-up signal, much more manly than a hug. He narrowed his eyes. He steeled his jaw. He cleared his throat to make sure he was talking in a deep, masculine voice. "First step accomplished. Now comes phase II. The investigative reporting." And he glanced back at Sol to see if he was as horrified as Lucas felt over his girlish hug.
Sol didn’t seem to have noticed. "And so a ground-breaking chapter in the history of journalism began." Sol mumbled.
“See you tomorrow Christine!” One of the girls said, as they passed him.
“See you tomorrow, girls!” Lucas sang back in his trained soprano voice. He fluttered his fingers in the air, waving back. “Laters!”
“Get in the car.” Sol said, grumpily.
“I can’t.” Lucas replied.
Sol looked up, his eyes worn and tired. “Why not?”
“Um, not that you should take this too hard, but you’re just not popular enough to be seen driving me home.” Lucas said. “In fact, Christine probably shouldn’t be even seen talking to you.”
“You’re an idiot.” Sol muttered.
“Just pick me up around the corner after I’ve changed.” Lucas walked off, behind the wood shop room. It was now time to undo Christine for the night. He had scouted out a spot that would give him enough privacy, where he changed his clothes, unhooked the wig and crammed everything in his backpack.
He unwrapped a moist towlette and wiped all the makeup off his face. It was certainly easier to take off than it was to put on. Although, thanks to Marie, he already knew how to do make-up easily enough. It just took forever, that's all.
He re-emerged from behind the wood shop as Lucas again, and waited at the corner for Sol. And waited. And waited.
The plan, so far as it went, was going brilliantly for Lucas. He was "in," and he was without suspicion. He had infiltrated and embedded himself with the targets of his expose. Unfortunately, one little problem still presented itself: Lucas hadn't been able to find the slightest indication of anything even vaguely deceptive about the cheerleading squad. And even though none of the girls were likely to be a threat on "Jeopardy," they were all honest, forthright people. More so than anybody he had ever met. So what if they were running a bit of a low watt bulb. It was kind of refreshing.
He was always the sort of person who spoke his mind. He respected that in people. He had never met a group of people so honest and uncomplicated. He wished he had real friends like this.
But there was still his duty. His duty as a journalist to blow the lid off, expose and destroy. That's what journalists do, right? So too, he must follow. It was nothing personal.
So why hadn't he been able to find the slightest trace of nefarious activity? He had been through the squad's formalities, their ritualistic practices of acceptance - and they weren't even close to the demon-summoning satanic rituals he had expected. They weren't even threatening in the least.
What he needed to do was find the hidden truths. To peel back the veneer of normalcy, to change perceptions. He needed to find the evil mind behind all this, who had so far eluded him. maybe it wasn't even the squad itself. Maybe they were unknowing tools in a vast web of deception. Yes. It had to be.
Now, he needed help. He needed to talk to someone who had been there and been back. he needed to talk to Becky.
"How did they CHANGE me?" Becky replied to Lucas's question. "They didn't do a thing! Why would you even think that!?" She was dumbfounded. Lucas was ruining a perfectly good lunch break. "And by the way, my name is Rebecca. Not Beck-eeeeee."
Lucas wasn't going to be thwarted that easily. "But you changed so much! Don't you remember when you were good looking and people liked you?"
Becky ground her teeth before deciding to answer. "Have you spent ten seconds with those bimbo airheads?" The look of hatred in her eyes was intense. "They give all women a bad name." She sighed, letting some of the anger go. "They made me realize the futility of that kind of life. I was living a lie. I didn't need to make myself attractive to just please men. I'm a good person. I can go through my life quite happily without having to pimp myself out to selfish, appearance-obsessed jerks who just want a pair of tits to play with."
Lucas was overwhelmed. He scribbled it all down in his notebook. Then he placed the eraser on his lips in deep thought. He had a lot of good leads here, but she was too forthcoming. Yes, it was good stuff. Too good. Looking deep into his ex-grilfriends' eyes, he leaned forward and whispered. "Who got to you?"
"You are such an idiot." Becky said, rolling her eyes to the sky. She grabbed her tall stack of books and left.
Surer than ever he was on to something big, Lucas resolved to double his efforts. He would get to the bottom of the story. He'd ignite this powder keg.
But first, he had to put on a skirt and go to practice.
In a school as large as Farifax High, it was easy to claim that "Christine" took classes far removed from anybody else on the squad, and thus basically make the non-existent "Christine" invisible for the day. And so it was that "Christine" didn't need to make an appearance until after school, and Lucas could make himself over out back in the bushes behind the remote wood shop building.
After practicing under the iron hand of Sol's sister, it wasn't difficult to make himself appear like a real girl. The instincts forced on him taught him all about how to dress, how to style the wig and how to do the make-up. Which was a relief, because he didn't have to think about it. He hated having to think too much.
And when he arrived for his first practice, no one thought it odd that "Christine" had appeared out of nowhere. The school was huge, and to not see someone for a even several days wasn't unusual in the least.
Lucas had to contain himself as he walked to the practice field that day, because he was about to break out in a fit of laughter. If they only knew what they were in for. All these unsuspecting girls were about to welcome a wolf into their ranks, and it would be the end of them. He'd not only rid the school of a menace, but of a irritating bunch of simpletons who served no purpose but to screech and scream over perfectly good sporting events.
"Hey everyone, this is Christy." The girl from the try-out said, introducing Lucas to the rest of the group. "Give her a big Fairfax spirit cheer!"
And to Lucas's embarrassment, the squad formed up and then started to loudly cheer the new member. "Who's got the spirit to be the best? Fairfax has the stuff from east to west!" they said in unison. Lucas wanted to crawl into a hole. Then to his horror, they chanted: "Can you spell spirit, tell us what's next..." and the whole group pointed to him in unison. Lucas realized in a panic that they were depending on him to finish the cheer.
"F-A-I-R-F-A-X!!" He suddenly found himself shouting in rhythm. He nearly fainted from the effort.
But quickly enough, he was surrounded by the girls, as they were jumping and screaming for joy. Apparently, he had just passed some sort of test. Maybe he was just a born cheerleader.
“Good job, Christy! Okay, we'll get started in five minutes!!" the lead girl said to the group. They all started to do some stretching exercises on their own. "My name's Cricket!" The girl said, with enough enthusiasm to make one fall over backwards.
"I'm Cherry!" Another girl said, bounding into the area.
"I'm Katelynn!" A third girl said, running past, flipping into a cartwheel.
Cricket spoke again, leading Lucas through the assembled group. "That's Amber, that's Heather, that's Kelsee, that's Petra and that's..." She stopped herself. Oh, I'll just let you meet everyone else as we go along today!" She said merrily. "I'm sooo happy you're on the squad, Christine! We're gonna have a super time!"
And with that, she trotted away, to find her own spot to limber up. Lucas did the same.
Practice was a little hairy at first, but the cheers and moves came naturally to Lucas, as he had already done much harder stuff with Marie. He didn't even have to memorize anything. It was all coming to him easy.
It wasn't long into practice that the girls started to take notice, and introduce themselves to the 'new girl' and asking how she knew all these moves. Lucas just played it humbly, and did his best aw-shucks act. The fact was, that these "routines" had very little in terms of complexity. They seemed to be made of three basic moves. Shaking the ass and shimmying the boobs, and then high kicking all over the place.
"Listen, Christy, we're going to have a slumber party tonight so we can all get to know each other!" Cricket said to him as practice broke up. "We always have a party when a new girl is on the squad!"
"Ohmigawd!" Lucas replied, to his dismay. "That's like, so totally great n' stuff!" He cringed inside when the words flew almost uncontrollably out of his mouth. "I love slumber parties!"
"No boys allowed!" Cherry added as she jogged by.
"That's right! It's a totally no-boys zone!" Cricket gushed. "But we'll have plenty of movies and we can do nails n' hair n' stuff!"
"Oh!" Another girl, Kelsee, bounced by. "Be sure to get Maid in Manhattan! I love that one!"
"That is, like my favoritest film - EVER!" Cricket wailed.
“Did you see it, Christy?” Cherry asked, her bright eyes begging for a positive response.
Lucas wasn’t about to let anyone down. "Jennifer Lopez is my hero!" He found himself saying. "She's so cool!" He could obviously adapt to alien concepts quickly.
Cricket agreed. "She's just like the best actress and singer ever! All like in the same person, even!"
"Uh huh." Lucas said wearily, a little bit of himself poking through. Truth be told, Jennifer Lopez was a little too... Hippy for his tastes. He then got back into character. "So, count me in!" And there was more jumping and screaming for joy.
“You’re just, like, the most fitting-in-est girl ever to fit in with us!” Crocket declared.
The plan was going perfectly. All he had to do was whatever the group did. He just had to shut off all sense of individuality. He had no problem with this.
Getting dressed the next morning, Lucas had to be very careful. He had been acting as girlishly as he could have imagined all night, and now he was back to behaving like himself. Still, as intensely as he had been performing, it seemed nearly impossible to him that a switch could be flipped and he'd stop being the super-feminine Christine and being the ever-macho Lucas without any side effects.
He had to check and re-check himself in the mirror, making sure his choices of dress and his appearance were just as manly as he usually dressed. He had to make sure no residue of girlhood remained in his real life. His leather workbooks and baggy carpenters jeans were right. All makeup scrubbed and all perfume washed off.
He was good. He was fine. It was just something he was going to have to live with - he could be a girl one minute and a man the next.
A honk came from downstairs, shaking Lucas out of his self-absorbed world.
"You went to a cheerleader slumber party!?" Sol said, disbelief written all over his face. Lucas eased himself into the passenger seat of Sol's car.
"Yeah." Lucas said, shrugging. "All in the name of investigative reporting."
Sol sat still for a few seconds of silence. But only for a few seconds. "TELL ME ABOUT IT!!" he demanded.
So Lucas got around to telling the story. He had gotten into the slumber party without even really thinking of the consequences. In fact, he only bothered to grab something to sleep in at the Goodwill on the way over.
But when pressed for details of what went on, Lucas was a at a bit of a loss. He knew that he had just slept overnight with the cheerleading squad, and that should register in his consciousness as a great, all-time achievement in the history pubescent teenage males worldwide, but he didn't think of it as anything like that.
Lucas had reluctantly enjoyed the slumber party, but not for the reasons one would assume. He just enjoyed spending time with the girls. He liked the movies they rented, he liked the stories they told. He even liked doing the girls' hair. There was definitely something wrong with missing out on one of the best opportunities he'd ever have to see girls naked, but he really didn't mind much. And even thought, most of what they did all night was just talk, he had a blast anyway.
The only things that mitigated the experience for him was the disturbing things his body did without him even noticing it. His wrists were limper than noodles, and he was carrying his arms inside-out at his sides when he walked. And his walking was driving him nuts. His butt spent so much time going back and forth that he couldn't take anything but the smallest of steps. When he wanted to go somewhere, it was taking him twice as long, because his body was placing a higher priority on shaking his ass than getting there.
And then there was the surprise. The girls had baked a cake that said “welcome to the squad!” on it in bright colored frosting. They even did a cheer for him: “Who’s the hottest cheerleader you’ve ever seen, she’s the new girl on the team, she’s our girl, her name’s Christine!”
But he wasn't about to tell Sol about any of that. What Sol wanted to know was about the girls and what it was like to sleep in the same room as The Nines. But Lucas found himself having to make things up to put some life into his story. He told him he had seen all the girls naked, and had pillow fights with them. He made up a story about phoning up boys and pretending to be phone sex girls awarding free samples - before hanging up. And of course, there had to be a fashion show of skimpy lingerie. It seemed like the sort of thing Sol wanted to hear.
"That sounds like every guys' wet dream come to fuckin' life!" Sol said, amazed. "Dude!" he held up his hand for a high-five. It hung there for an awkward moment.
Lucas slapped it. "You know it!" he replied. Of course, it was all a lie, but at least it made Sol happy. He tucked some hair behind his ears and chuckled to himself. Lucas re-checked his backpack for the right books. Shame he hadn't actually had the time to study last night, what with sleeping with a bunch of girls. "Sacrifices" he reminded himself.
"How much've you written on the story yet?" Sol asked.
"The story?" Lucas queried.
"You know, the big 'gonna-make-me-a-big-time-reporter' story?"
Hell, Lucas realized, he should be writing down some outlines and at least compiling his notes. maybe taking some notes on what happened last night. That's what his journalism teacher said he should be doing, at least. He really needed to get something down on paper. "Almost done." Lucas lied. "Just need some background."
"Background. Y'know, quotes n' facts and stuff. "
Sol derisively snorted. "Right."
As Lucas returned home that night, he was a little tired. Practicing the routines and making all those jumps and kicks had taken a lot out of him, and he only had a few hours before he had to turn right around and go cheer on the team at the game tonight. He was glad to be home where he could get some rest. He dropped his backpack in the middle of the floor and headed straight for the kitchen. What stopped him from making it there, though, was seeing his Uncle Curtis.
"You've been running a little late, lately, haven't you?" His Uncle asked him. "It's past five."
"Newspaper work." Lucas replied. In a way, that was true.
"Well, good to see you getting involved in something worthwhile." Uncle Curtis responded with a cheerful grin. "Keepin' those grades up, right, slugger?"
For Lucas, it had been just him and his Uncle Curtis for three years now. His Mom had raised him alone, going through a couple of step-dads before she had passed away. One tragic night Lucas came home to hear that his mother had died in a bizarre koosh-ball accident at the stationery shop where she worked.
Uncle Curtis took him in over the summer, and had been paying his way through since then. Lucas wasn't sure where the money came from, as his Uncle didn't seem to have a job. He was always hanging around the large house somewhere, usually on the phone in the back room. Other times, it was like Lucas couldn't even find him – as if he had disappeared somewhere in the house – but eventually Uncle Curtis would turn up again.
Well, whatever he did, Uncle Curtis had a fair amount of money and having another mouth around to feed like Lucas didn't seem to bother him much. In fact, to Lucas, his Uncle was probably one of the calmest, nicest people he had ever met. He didn't get stressed over anything and was always in a good mood. And since he wasn't always in Lucas’s face, the boy enjoyed the freedom to do what he pleased as long as he didn't push it too far.
"In for the night?" Uncle Curtis asked.
"Yeah," Lucas said, not having any idea what to tell him. "Homework." He figured his Uncle would be busy again in the back room, and he could sneak out. Usually, by about five or six, his Uncle wasn't to be seen again until morning. He trudged to his room and collapsed on his bed, waiting for the evening.
Sure enough, by six-thirty, Uncle Curtis was nowhere to be seen. Lucas took the cheerleading outfit out of his backpack and laid it on his bed.
As he had been conditioned to do, Lucas stripped himself down to his underwear. He glued on the false breasts and then put some make-up on the edge to conceal it. The uniform top would just barely expose the slightest amount of cleavage. While that was drying, it was time to deal with his legs.
He shaved them every other day, but tonight was special, so he decided to get it done the professional way for his big debut. He melted some wax in the microwave and used it to get his legs smooth and bare like he remembered they used to be when he was a kid.
It was certainly a painful experience, but if girls could do it, there was no reason a tough guy like him couldn't handle it. No sweat. And besides, a few bottles of moisturizer made the sting easier to cope with.
Once he could walk again, Lucas was ready to deal with the clothes. He slipped out of his briefs and grabbed a gaffe panty from his hidden stash. This wasn't the first time he had tried it on, but this would be the first time he was going to have it on for more than a few minutes. The details of what he had to do to get it to fit aren't worth repeating, but after a little trial and error, Lucas found a position for himself in which he wasn't in piercing pain.
The next thing was to put on his athletic bra, which he slung on himself carefully so as to not dislodge the falsies on his chest. Again, it took a while before he found his comfort level. And this led him to the dancer's tights. They were part of the uniform, but the only part which he had to buy himself. The Nines had given him a very specific type to buy.
"Lycra Shiny Full Foot Tights" was what the package read. He had had to order it FedEx overnight to get them on time. Just like Marie showed him, he carefully bunched up the tights with his fingers and thumbs and then slowly drew them over his legs.
The cool effect on his reddened legs was amazing. If there was one thing he liked to do, it was to put on hosiery. Not that it made him gay or anything – it just felt great. You understand. Once he had them tugged up over his hips, Lucas could appreciate them in full. No only did they shape his legs in that classic feminine way, but they also added a dazzling shine to his legs that glistened in the light.
After admiring himself for a little too long, he put on the cheerleader panties. They were sparkling silver. The school colors were blue, black and silver, so it wasn't inappropriate. He noticed they were a bit loose on him, but there was little he could do about that.
It was finally time to get to the last layer. He pulled on a white straight skirt that was cut to look like it was a wrap-around, exposing his left leg with a triangular slit. There were rhinestones all around the hem, where the blue, black and silver stripes were. Lucas found a spot where it rested reasonably well, but lacking the hips that girls had, it wasn't easy. He'd probably have to adjust it during the night a couple of times.
And finally, it was time for the top. It was white, just like the skirt, but had a number of stripes and panels on it. On the small of the back, it has his name embroidered into it over a silver star. Well, not his name, but his girl name. And, actually, not his girl name either. It read "Krystie." Which he didn't feel like correcting. Close enough. More importantly to Lucas, it was sleeveless and a crop-top. It didn't bare much of the stomach area, just a couple of inches, but that was enough to make him wish he'd been able to work off a few more pounds. He got it over his head and on, being cautious of his still-drying attachments.
Now, it was time for the main event, the head. Fortunately, Marie had left notes for him to follow.
Lucas started with the cleansing, then the moisturizing. Concealer was supposed to be next, but Lucas's skin was too young for flaws. Foundation was also an optional step, being that most girls of his age didn't wear it. But for the purposes of cheerleading, The Nines had told him to use heavy amounts. It was like stage makeup – you had to look good from a distance. Marie's advice on how to do it was to do over-do it. A little bit of powder over that to set it, and it was on to the eyes.
A little black on the eyelids and then a little Fairfax High blue blended above that. Recalling how the cheerleaders usually did themselves up, he then added some silver glitter out to the temples. He lined his eyes with an extra-thick line of black and loaded up on the mascara. Cricket had given him two silver beads that were to be threaded onto his very outer eyelashes.
He put a little extra blush on his cheeks, and then some silver lipstick. He had gotten that from Cricket as well. He already had his wig prepared, having worked on it while waiting to get dressed. He had styled it up into a classic ponytail, like usual – but this time, he had curled it at the very top. And as a finishing touch, he tied it all up in silver and black ribbons. He got all those ideas from a website. On Cheerleading.
It was research.
With the wig on his head, and his tiny white shoes and socks on his feet, he took a good look at himself in the mirror. Lucas grabbed his two mini-pompoms and did a sassy cheerleading pose for a second look. Now, he was a cheerleader. He was on his way to the story of a lifetime.
Lucas arrived a little late, so as to have an excuse not to dress with the rest of the squad. That didn't stop him from inviting himself into the locker room to see what he could see. Before he could really get a good look, he was taken aside by Kelsee, a bubbly brunette.
“C’mon, Krystie! You’re not even ready yet!” She said, grabbing Lucas by the arm. Not ready? What had he just done for the last two hours?
She applied a Fairfax Flyers temporary tattoo to his cheek. “You’re not even an official member of the Fairfax Cheer Squad until you have one of these!” Kelsee told him. She also sprinkled him with yet more silvery glitter on his bare shoulders and tummy. It seemed like only seconds passed until they were out on the field, holding up the paper banner for the football team to burst through.
Katelynn, a slightly ditzy redhead was seated on his shoulders, as they held up one side of the banner. Her legs were pinching his head, as they rubbed back and forth against his cheeks. He recognized the stockings as the same brand he wore.
As Cricket and Amber held up the other side, they needed only wait a few seconds for the football team to burst through the banner, as the school band started to play the fight song. Katelynn expertly leapt from Lucas’s shoulders and landed on the ground, and did a backflip to add some flourish. All nine members of the cheerleading team followed the team to the sidelines, with the girls throwing in some somersaults as they trailed behind.
The next three hours were a blur. It was night full of cheering and shouting. Dancing and jumping. Sweating and smiling. The whole world was just down to the one hundred yards of the football field. At the edge of vision, there were the blinding lights and inky blackness beyond. Nothing existed beyond those lights.
Only after the game, and he was on his way home, did he finally mentally catch up with himself again. Lucas didn't remember particulars. He only had an overwhelming sense of euphoria.
The lights were still shining in his eyes and the sounds still echoing in his head. He was practically skipping down the road on his way back to his house. He wanted to turn back, to go back on that field and cheer all night long. There were ups, there were downs. The team was behind, then it came back. But to be truthful, all Lucas knew was that he just had to cheer harder as the night went on. He just had to. He had to be the energy of the team. There was such a thing as school spirit, and he could feel it in every muscle of his body.
He thought he would have been a bundle of nerves, dressed as he was with everyone he knows looking at him. But as a part of The Nines, he felt invulnerable. He could do no wrong. He was superman.
The Nines danced together, they chanted together, they kicked together and Lucas loved every last second of it. With every passing moment, he could feel that energy from deep within him growing and surging through him. Why didn't people know about this? Cheerleading. It was absolutely fantastic!
Tomorrow, when he woke up, he’d have to remember to check the local paper and see who won the game.
Lucas let himself into the house, finding it dark except for the hallway which led to the back room where Uncle Curtis was working. Tip-toeing up the stairs to his room, Lucas found it hard to contain himself. He wanted to jump those stairs ten at a time.
But his bounding steps came to an abrupt halt as Lucas ran right into his Uncle.
Uncle Curtis was in a pair of boxer shorts and an old T-shirt, holding a bowl of ice cream in his hands. The spoon was dangling from his fingers, but he was was frozen stiff in disbelief. His mouth was wide open and ready to take a spoonful of Rocky Road, yet his hand was unable to deliver. Lucas was just as startled and petrified, rooted to the spot in shock.
"WHAT in the NAME of...!?" Uncle Curtis tried to say. "Lucas?" He asked. "Is that you?"
They both sat on Lucas's bed for a long time, not talking to each other. Neither had any clue as to what to say. There seemed no word that could even hint at what each other was thinking. The Queen's English had not been built with this sort of occasion in mind. Five minutes of tense silence had passed before something finally happened.
Starling his Uncle, Lucas spilled out in a desperate rush what was going on. How he had this newspaper story with witches and he was Tiger Woods, there was a thing that hid his penis and he wasn't really a fan of J-Lo, but he was real real good at pretending, his girlfriend had turned into a goth and he didn't know it was just a sweatband wrapped in foil, he thought it made real electrical shocks!
Eventually, Uncle Curtis untangled the knots in Lucas's story and got it down to the basics. If he understood it correctly, Lucas was working undercover to find out something about the cheerleading squad. It was a story he was investigating for that newspaper class he had enrolled in, and was very, very serious about following through on it. Obviously, if he had gone to this extreme, he was very serious indeed.
Once he understood, Uncle Curtis's head fell into his hands. He held it there, seemingly in the vain hope that the longer he thought about things, the more it would make sense. It wasn't working. He rested his elbows on his knees and sat up straight. After a slideshow of human emotions flashed across Curtis' face, he eventually seemed to get a hold of a feeling. Bemusement. "I have to admit, Lucas, you are certainly dedicated to your story." The frown on his face broke. "I'm not sure I would have taken it quite this far, but..."
And with that, Uncle Curtis's actually started to smile. He ruffled Lucas on the head. "You're quite a creative kid."
"You're not mad?" Lucas asked, nervously.
Uncle Curtis sighed. "I don't know what I am. But I am a little disappointed you didn't tell me what you were up to. I like to think that you can trust me, and I can trust you."
Lucas looked a little guilty. "I'm sorry."
"Just don't think that you have to keep secrets from me." He shot Lucas a friendly punch in the shoulder. "No matter how crazy the idea is."
"Okay," Lucas said. He then looked a little sheepish. "I still have to get the story, though."
Uncle Curtis sighed again and a serious look came to him. After all, he was the closest thing to a parent in the room. "Well..." He paused. "I don't think..."
"I'm right on the trail of the story! It's right there for me to get it!" Lucas pleaded. "This will be SO big!"
Uncle Curtis shook his head as he got up and walked to a chair in the corner. "That may be, but..."
"Please, Uncle Curtis. I... I really have to finish this." Lucas bit his silver-colored lip. "It's the most important thing I've ever done."
His uncle leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. And then he scratched his head. Then he rubbed his chin again. "As long as you don't hurt anyone, don't break the law, and don't keep anymore secrets."
"Really?" Lucas said with delight. "Thank you, thank you, Uncle Curtis!"
"Don't thank me just yet, Lucas. I have to be told about everything, and if there's something I don't like, I'll shut this down instantly." He stood up and used his height and girth to intimidate the smaller boy. "If this becomes a problem it becomes MY problem. And I'll come down on you so hard you won't see daylight for years." Curtis then turned slowly, breaking his menacing gaze only when he had to, and headed off out of the room. "But it's late. It's time for bed."
"Thank you, Uncle Curtis." Lucas said again, as the door shut.
Uncle Curtis made for the stairway. He felt like jumping down ten steps at a time. He practically skipped through the house, he was so excited. But he had to be in control. He got downstairs, and calmly - but with a high degree of nervous anticipation - walked down the hallway to his back room. Once inside, he locked the door and then went to his closet. He pushed aside a rack of unused clothing and pressed in on the wall behind. It opened for him automatically, revealing a staircase. He practically flew down the stairs and landed in the basement. There, he frenetically fired up the computers he had down here. And then he switched on all the cameras in Lucas's room. He hoped to God they still worked.
He couldn't believe his luck. His sister leaving him with a kid to raise was a curse, but now... Now it was a gift. A gift from God.
Uncle Curtis's on-line pornography empire was the source of his income. His seven-figure income. Eighty-five sites raked in the cash. He had more adult site hits than any other private company in the United States. Off-shore companies and corporations may have more business, but Uncle Curtis's Triple-X network was #1 rated and everything was 100% American-made porn.
He used to be able to do the shoots in his house. That's why he had bought such a big place, so he could run the whole business out of his home. It was all under one roof: web site, photo shoots and live cams. And that's also why he had cameras in Lucas's room. He used to run live (but totally choreographed) "security cam" shows out of those rooms, so he had concealed cameras everywhere. That was squashed when the kid showed up. All the girls had to go. No more working out of the house. He had shut the cams down when he gave Lucas the room. Now, he had a reason to use them again.
He had a gold mine. Lucas was dressing up as a girl for some obtuse reason - he really didn't care about the details. All he cared about was that Lucas was dressing in girls' clothes and he could take pictures. And he wasn't just trying to be any girl, but a cheerleader! It was too much to even dream for. How much money could he make with a candid video diary of a real teenage boy dressing up as a girl? Good lord, the number of people who would pay for that was making his brain hurt. There was no limit to the profit potential of this. He would double his fortune, and corner the transvestite, transgender and tranny chaser marketplace all at the same time!
Of course, he'd have to photoshop Lucas's features a bit to disguise him. If Lucas were spotted, the gig would be up. And besides, disguising him would be the least he could do. Lucas was family and all. He could just hire some computer retouch jockey for that, no problem.
But for now, Uncle Curtis grabbed the phone to call up his web designer in California. He had a whole new site for him to design, as quickly as possible. How much money was he going to make? How far could he push it? If only he could stop his nerves from causing his hands to shake, he'd be able to dial.
Lucas was excited when he got out of bed in the morning. He almost ran all the way to school. He had so much to talk about. He wanted to talk to Cricket, Kelsee, Cherry and all the girls about what an amazing time they had last night. He couldn't wait to...
But then, just as he entered the school, he realized he couldn't. He wasn't able to. He was Lucas. And Lucas didn't really know the cheereleaders. Lucas was on the other side of the fence. Lucas had to practically ignore The Nines, as if last night had never happened.
The spring in his step turned into a slow trudge. He went to his locker and slumped against it. This day was going to suck.
"Hey-hey!" Sol said, walking by and slapping Lucas on the back. "Saw you last night!"
Lucas made shushing motion with his finger to his lips. "You'll blow my cover!"
"You really know your stuff out there!" Sol said, genuinely impressed. "I thought you'd look like an idiot. But you've got some talent."
Lucas didn't share his friend's enthusiasm. "Yeah, yeah." He dejectedly opened his locker to get his books out. He had no enthusiasm for spending one second in class.
"So, have you cracked their diabolical master plan yet?" Sol asked with a tone of sarcasm that totally escaped Lucas's attention.
Lucas turned to Sol thoughtfully. "You know, I don't think these girls know what's happening."
"Yeah, well I could have told you that."
"No, I mean, I don't think they know that there's this whole witchcraft vampire thing going on. I think they're just pawns."
"You sound like you're sympathizing with them."
"I guess, maybe. Kinda." Lucas made sure no on was listening by looking around. "They're a lot of fun to be around."
Sol snorted in laughter. "Again, I don't think exactly privileged , for-your-eyes-only info."
"They're really just a bunch of sweet, innocent girls." Lucas sounded like he was coming to a bit of an epiphany. Or at least what passes for it in his brain. "It's great to talk to them. They don't lie, they always tell you the truth, they speak their mind."
"And I had been calling them airheads all this time."
"I've always worried about who I'm dating, who's the hottest girl I can make out with, what classes I take, what grades I have to make and everything. I'm always worried about what other people think. Living up to their expectations."
"You read this somewhere."
"Dr. Phil." Lucas answered. "But that's not important. I kinda feel that way. And these girls just don’t care about any of that.” He reflected for a moment. “Sometimes I think I'm just trying too hard."
Sol thought back to seeing Lucas leading the crowd in a skirt, made up and skipping around like a fairy - all for a few inches of text in a student newspaper. "No. Really," he remarked, with some degree of derision. "So you're gonna give up on the story?"
"No!" Lucas said with shock. "There's something behind all this, I know it!" He lowered his voice again. "I just have to keep digging."
History class dragged on for an eternity. English was unspeakably slow. Algebra was calculatingly dull. Classes just bored him now. All he could think about was practice after school. It was consuming him, and he was trying to fight it. What he should be looking forward to was getting the facts and snooping around, trying to get the answers he wanted. But instead, Lucas's mind kept slipping into thinking how great it would be to get back together with the squad.
It was five minutes into fourth period when the intercom system crackled to life. "Announcements." The tired, monotone voice said from the ancient speaker. It was the time for the vice principal to make the daily announcements. "Due to complaints about the nutritional value of school meals from the parent-teacher association, we will no longer be serving pizza in the lunch room. Instead, we will be serving fried chicken."
"Mrs. Gleason's 2nd period and 5th period classes have excused absences. They are on a field trip to the Munson Museum of Chemical Science, which is a bit of a mix-up considering they are studying French impressionism." The vice principal coughed loudly. "We'll have to be more careful in the future."
"This Thursday is an away game for varsity football, and all football players and the pep squad are excused to leave early for the trip." More coughing. "On a related note, the pep squad has a new member of the squad, Krystie Fields. Please welcome Ms. Fields."
Out the hallway door, Lucas could hear some lonely, sparse clapping somewhere.
"Ms. Fields is also needed in the front office for her signature, so, Krystie, please report to Mrs. Williams at the desk immediately."
"That is all for today."
Lucas dropped the pencil he had in his hands to the floor. The office was calling a non-existent student. Him. Now what?
They needed Christine to come to the office? To sign? Sign papers? Maybe they suspected him. Her. Whoever. What was going to happen when no one appeared?
That question was raised again a few minutes later. "Again, would Krystie Fields come to the front office." Said the intercom.
Now Lucas started to get nervous. This was all falling apart in front of him. Who could have ever thought something like this could come back to bite him!?
"Would the teacher who has Krystie Fields in their class please contact the office?" The intercom said after waiting a few more minutes.
Finally, the bell rang and Lucas dashed for his locker. He dumped his books inside and headed for the exit. Sol was already there. "Did you hear the announcement?" He asked Lucas.
"Yeah. I gotta go!" Lucas replied.
"Go?" Sol asked.
"I need to go 'get' Christine and bring her back here to do whatever they need her to do!" And Lucas left the hall running.
Sol found himself grabbing a hold of Lucas by the shirt. "Hold on!" He said. "They're going to check their computers sooner or later and find out that there's no Christine Fields enrolled, you know."
"Maybe they won't!"
"You know they will."
Lucas wouldn't listen. "I have to take the chance, Sol, or else I lose this story!"
Sol gritted his teeth. Lucas was heading for trouble. Again. And unfortunately, Sol knew a way out. He wished he didn't, but he did. It would be wrong not to try. "Come here." Sol said, waving him back in to the hall. "Follow me."
They went into the computer lab, finding the room was empty for lunchtime. Sol helped himself to the instructor's machine, which didn't have all the blocks and filters the students' machines did. He typed in the password he had stolen a few weeks back and was in to the school district's intranet in just a few moments.
If he was lucky, the administration hadn't done any searches for 'Christine Fields' yet. When she didn't show after a while, and no teachers claimed her as a student, then they no doubt would start to look for their records. Which meant he didn't have a lot of time.
Sol found the records of an old student still in the system, duplicated it, and edited the info.
"K-R-Y-S-T-I-E." Lucas said, telling him how to spell the name.
"Really?" Sol said, suspicious.
"That's what they stitched into my uniform."
"Right. You mean Krystie's uniform." Sol got back to editing. "Krystie Ann Fields was born fifteen years ago in Sarasota, Florida."
"Make me seventeen." Lucas interjected,
"You have to be a junior or senior to be on the varsity. So that's what I told them."
Fine. Sol corrected it. Krystie attended school in Sarasota until her parents passed away and was now living with her uncle, Curtis Fields. She was...
"How tall are you?" Sol asked.
"Five ten." Lucas replied.
"Like hell. I'm five ten and you're four inches shorter than me."
Sol tapped away at the keyboard. She was five six, 90 pounds.
"I'm 110, actually." Lucas interrupted.
"Girls always lie about their weight." Sol answered. "Krystie takes Culinary Arts, Child Development, Intro to Language, Intro to Algebra, two study halls, Typing and Aerobics." he announced. That sounded like a good cheerleader-type schedule to Sol. Light and airy. "She maintains a 2.3 GPA."
"I can't get a 2.3!" Lucas yelped. "She's not like a Rhodes Scholar or anything!"
Sol just glared at him for a moment. Maybe he was friends with Lucas because it made him feel smarter. Maybe that was what the whole relationship was based upon. "Okay. Krystie Fields is now an official student at Fairfax high." Sol said, with a slight degree of pride. Hacking a new school record was no easy task, yet he had done it pretty quickly.
"Great. I'll go back to the house, change, and have Krystie show up after lunch to sign those papers. Then I'll go back home and change again." Lucas said, trying to form a plan in his head.
"Good luck," Sol said while laughing, "you're going to need it."
He turned back to the computer. He changed his B- in Computer Database Operations to an A. He deserved it.
When Lucas got back home, he found the place deserted as usual. He ran up to his room and got going on his usual getup. He was only about to begin when the phone rang. He dashed for the phone, fearing it was the school trying to track him down.
"Hello? Curtis Fields." Lucas could hear through his door. It was his Uncle Curtis, who had appeared out of nowhere. And he was answering the phone just outside his door. "Krystie?" He said. "Krystie Fields?"
Lucas was in a panic. He had to stop him from saying anything that would ruin this. He jumped out of his chair and rushed to the hallway, surprising the hell out of his Uncle.
Uncle Curtis stumbled back a few wobbly steps, out of shock. Lucas was wearing the wig, but still dressed in his usual clothes. He cupped the phone with his hand to talk to his nephew. Lucas was waving wildly and making a "cut" signal across his neck.
"What are... What's the story here, Lucas?" He demanded to know.
"What are they calling about?" Lucas asked, quietly.
"It's your school, and they're asking if I have a Krystie Fields living here."
"Uh..." Lucas's throat went a little dry. "See, I uh... Well, tell them... Uh..."
"Oh, I get it." He smiled knowingly. "That's your girl name, isn't it?" Uncle Curtis put the phone to his mouth. "Yes, Krystie is my niece and she just moved in with me."
Lucas wiped some sweat from his forehead. His Uncle was coming through for him. Way to go, Unk!
"Not at school today? Well, no. She's been... a little exhausted after cheering at the game last night." A pause followed as he listened to a question. "I'm sorry, I meant to give you folks a call, but I was a little busy this morning. My apologies."
Uncle Curtis looked at Lucas with a smirk. Lucas was trying to fashion some sort of silent signal to indicate Krystie was going back to school now. "But Krystie is feeling better..." Uncle Curtis said, slowly trying to figure out what Lucas was trying to say with his hands, "...and she'll be coming in for the last half of the day."
Before Lucas could tell his Uncle to take that back, the conversation turned to Lucas's status.
"Lucas Fields? Yes, he's my nephew. Both of them live with me." Uncle Curtis then appeared to have had an idea. "Oh, I was going to call you about him as well. Yes, I'm going to have to pull him out of school for a little while. He's been diagnosed... with... uh... the mumps."
Lucas's eyes went wide as dinner plates. What was his Uncle doing? He wildly jumped around, trying to wave off his uncle. "NO!" He yelled in the loudest whisper he could manage.
"I'll talk to you later. And thank you for making the extra effort to contact me, I do appreciate it. Thank you!" And he hung up.
"THE MUMPS!?" Lucas hollered.
"Well, I thought that if Krystie was in school, you couldn't be there at the same time, so..."
"She's not going to school! She's just doing the cheerleading!"
"Well... I..." Uncle Curtis tried to look embarrassed, but he was just acting. "I don't know if I can call them back at this point." Gosh, wouldn't it be a shame if Lucas had to dress up more often?
"I can't go to school as Krystie!"
"You were just about to go, though - weren't you? Isn't that why you're putting the wig on?"
"Yeah, but, just to sign some papers... Not to be a student and go to class n' stuff!"
"Well, you should have made that clearer to me. If you had been more explicit, you wouldn't have to go to school as her." Uncle Curtis headed downstairs. "But now it's too late. So get dressed, and I'll drive you."
Lucas stood there dumbfounded.
Uncle Curtis rubbed his hands together in glee. Now his boy-girl would be dressing every day. More pictures. More money. More money. More money. The windfall from this was going to be tremendous. Stupendous. It didn't seem fair to be as wealthy as he was going to be. To satisfy his conscience, he'd spend some cash on getting Lucas into a good college. That way he won't being totally selfish. Right?
Walking in to school dressed in the Krystie getup was the single scariest thing Lucas had ever done in his life. Here he was, with everyone he knew, looking at him close-up. This time, there'd be no uniform to hide in. No group to help mask his identity. He was bound to be found out. Someone would surely spot him.
Every step was like walking on land mines. With every movement, he was shaking. Would he give himself away with the next breath? His escort, Uncle Curtis, patted him on the shoulder. "You're doin' fine, slugger."
Lucas walked for a harrowing thirty-four seconds full of raw fear until he arrived at the front office. As Lucas nervously waited, Uncle Curtis signed a few bits of paperwork officially "re-enrolling" Krystie Fields into Fairfax High.
As he did, it gave the secretary at the desk time to examine Lucas. Lucas felt like he was going to just collapse in a heap any moment, his nerves tearing him apart as he tried not to notice the old woman skeptically evaluating him.
Surprisingly, though, she apologized for the trouble. The trouble of filling out this paperwork "again." Somehow, they couldn't find the original documents. The office seemed to have "misplaced" them somewhere. Secretly, the secretary thought she was covering up for errors she had made. Because after all, she was only human, and the computer was never wrong. Never. And no one need know that she misplaced a file or two from time to time.
"We need your picture, now sweetie," the secretary said.
"What!?" Lucas yelled. "No! Never! I can't do that!"
Uncle Curtis flashed a pained smile at the secretary. "You'll... Uh, You'll have to excuse her, you know how teenage girls are. They need to make sure they look perfect."
"Of course." The secretary said. She looked at Lucas with a smile. "But you're really too pretty to take a bad photo, dear."
A new photo ID was issued and minted, which Lucas took immediately so he could look at it. Oddly, it was the best photo he'd ever taken in his life. Krystie smiled sweetly and looked dynamite. She really was very attractive. He also asked for a class schedule since he had no idea of where to go next. After all, this wasn't his life he was living.
"I'll see you after practice, Krystie." Uncle Curtis said, planting a kiss on Lucases' cheek.
"Yuck!" Lucas replied, instinctively wiping it away immediately.
"Kids." Uncle Curtis said to the secretary as he left.
Finally, Lucas was able to sign what Krystie was originally called to the office to sign, starting this chain of events - a birthday card for the pep squad co-ordinator, as it turned out - and he was let go to attend class.
The halls were empty, as class was already in session. It left Lucas by himself, hearing the clippity-clop of his heels echo in the bare hallway. He had never felt so alone. He had never felt more vulnerable. He had never felt so naked and exposed.
Of course, it didn't help that he had decided to wear the miniskirt and the crop-top. That kind of contributed to the sense of exposure.
But emotionally, he had been left raw. Yet he continued on his way. Somewhere deep inside him, he had found some sort of survival instinct. Some way of coping with the impossible. It wasn't resolve, it wasn't perseverance. It was just pure fear.
It was the middle of fifth period, and as he checked his schedule, that meant he was expected in Child Development. Lucas found the room, and took several deep breaths. It was for the story, he told himself. He'd be famous because of the story he was going to tell. He held the knob of the door for a protracted moment before turning it. He tentatively walked inside, showed the schedule to the skeptical teacher, and took a seat at the back.
Today, they were learning how to encourge young children to read. And tomorrow, they would be going to the elementary school to practice on real kids. Lucas had just stepped into another reality, as far as he could tell. A reality where people were teaching kids how to teach kids. What did he want to do with a bunch of little trolls who weren't even out of diapers?
And as he sat there, he realized someone was looking at him. He tried to tell himself it was just because he was new in class. A piece of paper was flicked onto his desk. Lucas didn't see who tossed it. Nervously, he unfolded it, his hands trembling. He read it slowly: "Hey! Whut R U doing here?!" it read.
He had been spotted! Someone knew who he was! His life was ruined - his life was over. He'd never be able to show his face in the school again. He'd have to run away. He'd live on food scraps. Living in boxcars. His best friends would be hoboes with the names of "Gimpy Joe" and "Rufus Caboose." His life had started out so promising.
Cautiously, he peered around to see the face that would burn in his memory. The face of the person who would expose his secret to the world. The face of the person who would rip the strands of his life apart, never to be woven together again!
It was Amber from the squad. She waved and then flicked another piece of paper. "OMG! R U n DIS claS? kewl!" it said. He hopped out of the seat he had chosen at random and jumped into one right next to her.
"Ohmigod!" Amber said, excited.
And over her shoulder, Kelsee waved. "Ohmigawd!" She said.
"Ohmigawd!" Lucas replied, just as excited. In a split-second all the fear went away as he knew he was with friends.
Uncle Curtis came into the living room to find his nephew practicing a cheerleading routine to a hi-speed techno beat. He was sucking on a bottle of diet soda.
"Working hard or hardly working?" Uncle Curtis said, inappropriately. "You made it through the day, I see."
"Wasn't so bad," Lucas replied, "Turns out most of the girls on the squad are in my... Krystie's classes."
Uncle Curtis was looking around, making sure he had a camera on this so he could get some nice shots of Lucas bending and jumping. He made sure he was just out of frame. "You get along with them pretty well, Hmm?"
"Yeah. They're okay. I mean, they're all super nice. I don't know who's behind the evil plan, but I don't think they are."
"Evil plan. Yes. Hey! Why don't you invite the girls over here some time? Maybe have a pillow fight?"
Lucas made a face at that. "Because Krystie doesn't really live here."
"Yes. Yes. Too soon," he said to himself. Uncle Curtis turned his attention to the exercise his nephew was doing. "Having trouble?" he said, seeing Lucas trying desperately to stretch.
Lucas was wincing in pain and sweat was running down his forehead. He had this one routine that he hadn't been able to do right. "I'm trying to do the splits."
"I can see that." His uncle took a sip of his drink. "Doesn't look like you're having a lot of luck there."
"Um, there's something I've been meaning to ask you. Now that I'm going to have to go to school as Krystie, I, uh..."
"Need some clothes." Uncle Curtis finished the sentence for him. "Yes, I was thinking the same thing. I was going to make you pay for it yourself, but... I guess I am somewhat responsible for getting you into this mess. So I got you this." And he handed over a card.
"Mega Buxx?" Lucas said, reading the logo on it.
"It's one of those secured-deposit debit cards for kids. It's got about five hundred on it, and you can spend it any way you want." He used his finger to scold. "But don't abuse it or spend it on frivolous things. I'm not made of money, you know." '...Yet,' he added in his head.
"Oh! Um, thanks." Lucas said, but his expression turned from excitement to disappointment in the middle of speaking. He really needed money right now. There was this guitar he had wanted to get and it was about 320. But he noticed right away the card was made out to "Krystie Fields," which dampened his enthusiasm. He realized he was going to have to be dressed as Krystie to spend the money.
But he could still get the guitar, even if he was dressed up. Girls got guitars sometimes, right? Yeah! And as soon as he was about to change his mood back to ecitement, and truly thank his Uncle for the money, he pulled back. If he looked too happy, maybe his uncle might think something was up. "Thanks a lot," he said out the side of his mouth. Lucas went back to his exercises.
"That looks like it's rough." Uncle Curtis observed. He saw what Lucas was trying to do, and he was trying not to think of how painful it must be.
"It kinda hurts." Lucas verified.
"I bet it does." Uncle Curtis saw another opportunity, one he had been waiting for. Thinking on his feet he took advantage of the situation. "Say, you know, I used to do a little bit of gymnastics myself back in the day. I used to have a little trick for doing the splits."
"Gymnastics?" Lucas said, looking in disbelief at his 350-pound uncle. It was hard to think he was ever in school, let alone on a gymnastics team. Actually, it was just hard to picture him simply bending over at the waist. "You?"
"Yes, of course." He said, lying.
Lucas didn't believe him, but he was curious. "What kinda trick?"
"You have to keep it a secret. I promised the guy who told me about it to never tell anyone else."
"Oh, I promise!" Lucas said, earnestly.
"Well... I suppose I can trust you, Lucas." Uncle Curtis got in close so he could lower his voice to a confidential level. "The problem is your... uh... thingies, you see."
"Thingies?" Lucas replied.
"Your... Uh, your... The little... Or not so little... Not that I know, but I.... Uh..." He got frustrated with himself and just said it. "Your dick." Then he tried to take that back. "Penis. Is what I mean to say."
"Yeah." No kidding. Doing this was going to rip them to shreds.
"Well, you have to deaden the feeling down there to be able to do the splits. Otherwise, it's too painful."
"Just numb it a little." Uncle Curtis reassured.
Lucas had a little bit of doubt on his face. "Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure." Curtis smiled. "I did it for years, no problem."
"So what do you do?"
"Well, there are these pills you can take." Uncle Curtis tapped his chin, pretending like he was thinking. "You know, I might just have some around here somewhere." Well, of course he did. He had just laid out several hundred dollars for them. He had loaded up on estrogen, progesterone and anti-androgen drugs for his new money-maker nephew. Wandering off, he returned just a few minutes later with a plastic bottle labeled 'Salt Peter.'
"Salt Peter?" Lucas asked. "What's that supposed to be?"
"It's something they use in the Navy to keep sailors from getting too... erm... Over-amorous when they're on board ship."
"It makes them lose their sex drive." Uncle Curtis clarified. "You can't have that when everyone's cooped up on a boat for a month or two. This stops it temporarily." That was just an old legend which was patently untrue. But it was a good cover story. "You take a few of these a day and it will make it much easier to do your stretching. You will probably kick higher, too."
"Salt Peter, huh?" Lucas said. "You sure this is temporary?"
"I can trust you to keep this a secret, right?" Uncle Curtis replied, not answering the question.
"Yeah!" Lucas said. He examined the bottle carefully. "All, right, I'll give it a try." He took the bottle and popped a few right there. "They're all shaped differently."
Uncle Curtis shrugged. "Always been that way. You're supposed to take one of each."
"Geez, these purple ones are huge."
"Do your best." Uncle Curtis said, keeping his voice as calm and even as he could. "I think in just a little while, it'll pay off." And people certainly would pay. How they would pay - to see pictures of a boy growing breasts. How would he ever be able to spend all the money he was going to make?
Lucas choked down a big purple one. If this worked, if it did dial down his sex drive, then maybe he wouldn't have to worry about getting boners in front of the girls. That was becoming a problem for him. He had to stay out of the locker room or just keep seated and think of something safe like baseball or flossing. When he got a little too excited while he was wearing the gaff thing, the pain was intense.
Maybe he should take extra pills to make real sure. He decided that was a good idea. No harm in that.
As the car with the girls pulled into the parking lot, Lucas realized he hadn't asked a very important question. "So, um, where are we going?" He was finally able to say.
Even though the car had clearly arrived at its' destination, this was the first opportunity Lucas had to ask. Practice had ended, they had gotten to chatting, he was offered a ride, they turned up the music in Crickets' Jeep Wrangler, sang along to the songs, ordered some snacks at a drive-thru, and before he knew it, he was going out with the squad somewhere.
"Duh!" Amber said, playfully.
Lucas was pretty sure that when a cheerleader accused you of being "Duh," you had reached some sort of a low point intellectually.
As the girls poured out of the car, Lucas found himself being swept along, without any opportunity to stop. And before he knew it, he was entering Wilfork Mills, the girliest shopping mall in a fifty mile radius.
Not that any mall is a particularly masculine edifice, but Wilfork Mills was filled end to end with women's clothing stores. God help you if you should be looking for a hammer or a riding mower - it was not to be found at Wilfork Mills. There were five stores that sold nothing but lingerie. There were two spas. It had a Jenny Craig and a Weight Watchers. Two gift card stores. It even had a walk-in botox clinic. The walkway was jammed with kiosks flouting hair-care products, make-up, skin-care, bath salts and chocolates.
The only men you saw there were carrying bags for their wives or girlfriends. They looked like they were being taken to the gallows by the morose expressions on their faces. With the damage to their wallets, maybe they were.
"There's a sale at Macy's! We gotta check it out!" Amber said, pointing in the direction of the store.
"Aren't they always having a sale?" Lucas said.
"This is the semi bi-annual seasonal one-day only sale!" Cricket clarified.
"Yeah. Okay. Uh-huh." Lucas nodded, already distracted. He couldn't help but notice there were an awful lot of people here at the mall.
Amber rolled her eyes. "I've had this one circled on my calendar for a week!" She said, insisting on the importance of this day.
Lucas had become a little too transfixed with the surroundings. Dozens of stores were visible up and down the way. There were hundreds of people here. Maybe thousands. All of them with eyes. Eyes looking around.
"Oh, I gotta get some shoes for that skirt I got yesterday," /cricket said to Amber.
Eyes that were going to look at him. In fact, he could tell. The eyes of everyone in here were up and alert, scanning from left to right, looking for things to buy. What if they stopped on him!? What if they caught him?
"The check one or that flippy blue one?" Amber asked Cricket.
His breathing became labored as it all suddenly started to sink in. Here he was in girls clothing in public. Not just kids anymore, not just people he knew he could fool, but real people. If there were a thousand people, there just had to be at least one person perceptive enough to tell.
"The blue one." Amber replied. "I've got nothing I like to go with it. It shows so much of my legs, I can't wear my flats."
The odds were against him. There must be someone who could see through the thin lip gloss and the thick mascara. Lucas started to lose his balance, and looked for support to keep him on his feet. He didn't get any.
"Oh!" Cricket chirped, "I gotta stop in here first!" She pulled Amber in by magnetism, following in on her heels. Lucas just sort of drifted in the air for a moment, with no one to lean on, before he scrambled in behind them.
Lucas had never really been in a women's store before. Maybe he had as a little kid, hanging around with his mom, but he didn't remember those days very well. It was a long time ago. He was immediately struck by how boring it was. Nothing to play with, no TVs to watch, no games, no diversions. It was just racks and racks of clothing, uninterestingly arranged. The important point was that he was inside, where there were fewer people, and they were already too busy to bother with looking at him. It seemed safer here.
"They had this top here last week..." Cricket explained. This was apparently the entire rationale she had for dragging him in here. A top. A top of what? A jar lid? A spinning toy? He didn't really care.
"Oh, I can't find it!" She wailed. "If they ran out, I'll kill myself!"
To do something - anything - while this pointless search went on, Lucas pretended to examine some price tags. One hundred dollars for a lousy pair of pants!? Ninety dollars for a shirt!? Crap!
Lucas did some quick math in his head. That three hundred dollar guitar was virtually impossible now. Heck, just one damn purchase was going to make it impossible. This was not fair. All this money and no way to spend it on things he actually needed! He pounded his fist angrily onto a tabletop full of $150 sweaters. So much for that damn guitar. He really wanted it, too. He had been saving up for months and already had thrity-two dollars saved.
"I can't find it!" Cricket said, looking like a tear was coming to her eye. Lucas couldn't understand that someone could get so emotional over... clothes. He'd never cried over a pair of socks or something. This was ridiculous.
"I'm sure they'll get it in next week or something," Amber said, consoling her. "Do you want me to ask a salesperson?"
"No," Cricket said, sniffling a little. "I'll... I'll..." She looked over at Lucas for some help.
Lucas shrugged. "Internet?"
"Internet!" Cricket smiled. "I'll check on the internet store!" She then hugged Lucas quickly but fiercely. "You're right, Krystie. I'll find it there."
Lucas awkwardly patted her on the back. She was either a mental case or on her period, he decided. Lucas could find no other explanation for her bizarre behavior.
Amber led the way out. "Okay, we'll go over to Macy's next," she said. "Everything is seventy percent off."
"Seventy percent!?" Lucas said aloud. He did the math. That meant he could get two or three complete outfits and STILL have enough left for the guitar. He pumped his fist in the air. "That's AWESOME!"
"Excited much?" Amber asked.
"We gotta get there before they buy everything!" Lucas took the lead, breaking into a trot. "C'mon! What's keeping you!?"
"You HAVE to let me borrow that sweater!" Kelsee begged.
"Why?" Lucas said, looking down.
"Seriously!" Kelsee insisted. "It's killer! Let me borrow it next week!"
Lucas did think the sweater he got on sale was kinda nice. If he had seen a girl wearing it, he'd have probably thought it was sorta cool. But that's why he didn't want to give it up. He liked that other girls liked it. "But what if I want to wear it again?"
"Wear it again?" Kelsee said, rolling her eyes. "That's SO lower middle class."
It was the middle of his study hall, ostensibly used for... well, studying, but in this fact just a big chat session. The librarian who shushed the other kids' noise didn't even bother with The Nines. He had long given up fighting the unstoppable talking power of a team of teenage girls. They had just been moved into a corner to do the least amount of damage.
"Why can't I wear it again?" Lucas asked. "I can wash it. It'll get the stink out."
"It's not that," Amber declared. "We just don't wear the same thing twice. Ever."
Come to think of it, Lucas had noticed that. His trademark instinct for detection had been paying close attention to what the girls wore so that he'd be able to fit in better. And he hadn't seen the same thing twice.
But he had seen some girls wear something another had worn. His running theory was that it really the same person, just swapping faces. Witches did that sort of thing all the time. It was normal witch stuff. Normal like riding riding broomsticks, wearing pointed hats and having hilarious mix-ups with a wise-cracking cat.
"I called it first," Kelsee said.
"Second," Amber added.
Lucas started to do the math in his head again. He had spent more than he figured for the clothes. He had gotten the sweater, the shirts, the skirts, the tights, the underwear, the hat, the earrings, the bracelets, the belly ring and... And then came the shoes. He had, in just a few hours, completely burnt through the 500 dollars on the card, and even the thirty-two he was saving for the guitar. And he could have gotten that great purse if only he had six more dollars! He was still kicking himself over it.
Still, there was just no way he was going to make it on the five or six outfits he had gotten. Then, he had a brainstorm. "Uh, if you want this... can I borrow something of yours?" He asked Kelsee.
"Name it." Kelsee said. "I've got..."
Amber interupted,"I bet you want something of mine. We'll trade that sweater for..."
"No! She's trading with me first!"
"You can have two of my skirts."
"You can have three of my tops!"
"I'll give you my denim jacket!"
"Three tops and my silver pumps!"
"The skirts, the jacket and..."
"Hold it!" Lucas said, rubbing his temples. "You're driving me nuts!"
Amber and Kelsee looked at each other blankly for a moment.
"You can have any pair of shoes in my closet!" Kelsee said.
"C'mon guys!" Lucas whined. "This is impossible! I... I..." He put a finger to his painted lips. "What about that pleated tartan, Kels? I love that one."
"L... L..." She said, not beleiving what she was seeing.
Right after she passed him in the hallway, she knew it wasn't right. Something had just gone horribly wrong with the universe. This person she was looking at tried to just keep on going, as if nothing was the matter, but before he could even take two more steps, she came back for a second look. But it was right in front of her, no matter how bizarre it was. Becky was looking at her ex-boyfriend. "Lucas?" She said.
He tried to move on, but his whole body just seized up in fright. Then he started to hyperventilate.
"It IS you!" Becky said, loudly for everyone to hear.
Lucas, being the cool operator he was, dealt with the accusation in his usual smooth way. He fell onto the floor.
"What, exactly do you THINK you're doing?" Becky asked, her arms folded.
Lucas got back up, gathering everything. He pulled the hair out of his face and looked for some sort of plausible explanation.
"Who's Lucas?" He said, unconvincingly.
Becky rolled her eyes. "What the fuck is wrong with you!?"
He did the only thing he could do, and ran for the nearest exit. He flopped around a little, unused to his shoes, but he did make it. No doubt he had created quite a ruckus in doing so, but he didn't care. He had to get away from Becky.
He hurdled a few shrubs and found his secret place near the wood shop where he could catch his breath. Lucas was panicked into a fever, talking to himself in between deep gasps of air. "Damn... Crap... Crap... Crap... She's going to tell everyone... Stupid... Stupid... Never gonna get the dirt out of this skirt... She's going to ruin everything... Ruin it... Ruin it..." He was darting his head around the corner, waiting for the inevitable angry mob led by his ex-girlfriend. But minute after minute passed. Nothing happened.
Surely Becky had seen him run. Surely she had followed him. He gradually let his spot and re-approached the school hallway he had just run from. He stuck his head inside the doorway. Nothing happened.
After waiting a few minutes, he ducked his head inside the doorway again, to see if she was hiding in there somewhere. She wasn't. Lucas timidly entered, and was ready for am ambush of kids jumping out from the doorways to point and laugh at him. But nobody paid much attention.
Which meant that he was still relatively safe. But Becky knew. What was he going to do? Tell everyone? Did she hate him that much?
Probably, Lucas reasoned. Now he was really in for it. He knew her. She had a vicious streak. She'd enjoy making him miserable. He needed help. He needed someone to bounce some ideas off of. He needed a plan. So he went looking for Sol. Sol could help.
But Sol wasn't at his locker. And he checked his next class. Sol wasn't there, either. In fact, he couldn't find Sol anywhere. After school, he checked around. His car wasn't in the parking lot.
Well... Now what? Lucas figured he'd have to get out of this mess by himself. Which was going to require more of that thinking he found so distasteful. But he did have a plan, of sorts. And he'd get right on it.
After cheerleading practice, of course.
"So you're the new girl?"
Lucas was resting on a bench by the practice field, drinking a well-earned cup of water, as another intense practice had drained everything out of him. He didn't recognize the voice that was speaking, and so he had to look and see who was talking to him.
"You sure do sweat enough, don't you?" It was a girl he barely even had spoken to. But what contact Lucas had with her wasn't pleasant. She was a rich, stuck-up, snotty, spoiled shrew. Her name was Courtney, and was well known throughout the school as the bitch. Not in the sense that she merely bore the properties of being a bitch, but that she defined them. Courtney sneered at him. "Some girls glow, but you just... flow."
Lucas didn't need to ask why she had singled him out. She was the sort of girl who just picked on people at random. Courtney Chase was a very beautiful girl, her body trim and tall. Her violet eyes were deceptively soft - the jet black of her hair was a more appropriate clue as to her true nature. Courtney dressed like she had a million dollars to spend on just her wardrobe. Which she probably did, as her family was loaded.
Courtney was of the fourth generation of the Chase family. They had been here practically since the town had incorporated. The lived high on a hill above the valley, where the family’s white mansion was visible from just about everywhere. It was a constant subtle reminder that they were more important than you - and if you couldn’t pick up on the subtlety, they were all snotty stuck-up jerks as well.
"Hi. You're Courtney, right?" Lucas said, not knowing what else to say to her. He figured faking it was the best tactic.
"Aren't you sweet," she replied, "saying complete sentences and all? You'll give the peep squad a bad name." Courtney looked beyond Lucas, back out onto the practice field. "I mean 'pep' squad, of course."
Lucas turned his head to see what she was looking at. The football team had just broken practice, and the players were straggling off the field. As he strained to see exactly what it was she was interested in, he felt a splash of cold water come over his head.
Courtney was standing there with a big grin on her face, and crumpled up the paper cup she had just used. "I couldn't bear to see you look so hot. I hope you're cool enough, now, dear." She then waved at one of the players.
Before Lucas could react to what was going on, Danny Driscoll - the starting quarterback - had trotted over to Courtney's side. She immediately locked lips on him and held his head still with her hands. She used her one exposed eye to squint at Lucas. "
Did you have a nice practice, babe?" She asked Danny when they broke.
"Yeah. I guess." He then noticed Lucas, sopping wet, sitting on the nearby bench. "Hey," he said, "you're wet."
"And doesn't she look lovely?" Courtney added. "I was just talking to her and she was saying how she was looking forward to getting home so she could shave her mustache. Let's not keep her." She then turned Danny away and hooked his arm. "Thanks so much for the stimulating conversation... What was your name?"
"Oh, I'm sure it's not important," Courtney interrupted. "Toodles!"
As they walked away, arm in arm, Danny peered back over his shoulder at Lucas, looking as confused as Lucas felt. Courtney's red-taloned hand quickly turned his face back towards her.
What was that all about? Lucas asked himself.
The next day started out okay. He even saw Becky in the hallway, and she just smiled sweetly. Maybe he was off the hook? Maybe she would just keep to her own business?
Hell no. In the middle of his second period Typing class, the announcement was made over the intercom. "Krystie Fields to report to the vice principal's office immediately," it commanded. And he knew he was in for it.
There was still a way out. He could just take off, never to be seen again. But no. They'd catch him sooner or later. The law might even get involved, and he didn't want that. They might even arrest his Uncle, and he certainly didn't deserve that after all the nice things he had done for him lately. No. If there was a punishment to come from all this, he'd face it. He wouldn't run now. Journalism sometimes comes with a price. After all, he had to ask himself: would Geraldo Rivera run? Not a chance.
He was ushered into the vice principal's office where he indeed found Becky waiting for him, along with the vice principal himself. His name was Ruskin, Vice Principal Ruskin. And he was a nice enough guy. Until you got him ticked off. Then, look out. And Lucas had a feeling he was going to tick Vice Principal Ruskin off in a moment.
They made their introductions, and then Becky made her accusation. "This person is not who she looks to be. It's not even she. It's my ex-boyfriend." It held weight, because her father was one of the members of the school board, a local pastor, and it paid to keep her family happy.
Lucas did his best to sound honest when he denied her charge. He really was Krystie. He really was a girl. "I don't know what she's talking about. I'm not Becky's ex-boyfriend."
"Rebecca!" She barked. "He's lying. He's really Lucas Fields, in disguise. He's not really a girl!" Becky said, the anger in her voice practically tearing the air as she spoke. "I've checked the records, I've been following her... Him around. This pervert is even on the cheerleading team! He's taking showers with the girls, dressing with them and sleeping with them overnight! He's practically a child molester!"
Lucas turned to the vice principal. "I really don't know... wh... wh... what she's talking about."
Becky made for Lucas's head, trying to rip the wig off. He ducked the move.
"Stop that this instant!" The vice principal barked. "That is inappropriate behavior!" He turned to Becky. "If you do that once more, you'll be asked to leave and suspended from school!"
"I'm sorry." Becky said, playing up her puppy-dog eyes. "I won't do it again."
"Good." Vice Principal Ruskin turned to Lucas. "Now, as to the matter at hand. I did take a look, and the records behind your admission here are... incomplete. That's a little suspicious, I think."
"And the first day you were seen on campus was the first day Lucas became ill. That's even more suspicious."
"What it comes down to is that I need to verify your identity. I'm going to have to ask that I be given a chance to remove your wig." The vice principal stood closer to Lucas, ready to try.
48 ounce Big Gulp.
"You have the right to decline, of course, but if you do so, you will be escorted off school grounds and not allowed back on campus until you have completed a physical examination from our school physician."
"I..." Lucas said, stammering. "I..."
The vice principal didn't wait. He grabbed the blond hair and tugged it right off.
"What!?" Becky said, in disbelief. She was shocked. Because what had come off in the Vice principal's hands was not a whole head of hair, but just the pony tail. It was a clip-on. The rest of Lucas's hair fell loose to his ears.
It was the first thing he did yesterday after practice. He knew that Becky would try something and yanking off the wig was the most obvious. So he had gone to a salon, and had his hair dyed blond. His hair now came to just below his ears - thanks to some extensions - just enough to clip it together with the fake pony tail attachment. It wasn't a perfect disguise, but he hoped it would work.
Vice Principal Ruskin handed the hair back to Lucas. He didn't say anything, but looked a more than a little nonplussed.
"That doesn't mean anything!" Becky cried. "He's a boy! I'm telling you that's Lucas Fields, no matter what he did to his hair!" Becky turned to the vice principal. She looked so angry she could burn a hole in the wall.
The vice principal started to talk. "This is..." he didn't have much to say, and he knew it. "I can't..." He looked at Lucas. "I apologize."
"S'okay." Lucas said, very quietly. He made his way out, squeezing past Becky and Vice Principal Ruskin.
Suddenly, Becky barged past Ruskin and leapt for Lucas. She grabbed the skirt he was wearing and pulled it down over his too-slender hips.
"Miss Misner!" The vice principal objected, too late.
"See!" Becky yelled. "See!" She pointed. She pointed right between Lucas' legs. Right where the one thing that would give him away was.
But she was pointing to panties. She angrily yanked them down as well, just as Lucas regained enough composure to try and cover himself up with his hands.
And yet, he wasn't able to cover up in time.
Because, what was plain for all to see, was that in between his legs, Lucas Fields had a tuft of hair and... And only a tuft of hair.
Becky was on her knees in front of Lucas, eye-to-crotch, her jaw wide open and a look of profound shock on her face that suggested she had lost all touch with reality. Where was the...? How did the...? It was supposed to be... Well, this is where she had last seen it...
But it was gone.
The vice principal grabbed her by the waist and dragged her off. He kept eye contact with Lucas. "I'm very sorry, Miss Fields. Truly, truly sorry. Please." He hoisted Becky up, as she began to struggle.
"That's LUCAS FIELDS!!" She shrieked. "I KNOW THAT'S LUCAS FIELDS!!"
Ruskin spoke to Lucas. "You can call your uncle if you need to go home. I understand. Mr. Freeny in the counseling office is there if you need him." He had the tone of voice of a man who was begging to avoid a massive lawsuit. "Anything you need. Please."
"I'm okay." Lucas said, shimmying his panties back into place.
The vice principal carried Becky off. Her shreiking and yelling could be heard echoing through the office hallway, getting fainter in the distance, but more desperate and crazed. "He's not a girl!" She yelled. "He's my ex-boyfriend!!"
Lucas pulled his short skirt back up on his slender hips as he heard Becky's yelling get more and more excited. Then a door slammed and you only hear muffled yelling. He felt so embarassed. He never planned to have to show what was under his panties. It's just that... with the bulge down there... Well, it just ruined the line of his skirt. And he couldn't have that. What would the other girls say?
So he had just pulled it back between his legs. He had seen that on "Ace Ventura." Fortunately, those pills his uncle had been giving him were killing any pain he felt down there, and with the help of some super glue, he could keep his penis there all day long and not feel a thing. Why, sometimes, it was like he didn't even have a penis at all.
He clipped his pony-tail back on, and checked to se if everything was okay inthe mirror. It was a good thing he had his hair done. Once he told Uncle Curtis about Becky and what she knew, he made the suggestion to dye his hair. Lucas really didn't want to do it, but his Uncle was very insistent. He even took him to an expensive salon.
"Tell you what, I'll come with you and snap some photos." His Uncle had said, reassuringly.
"Photos?" Lucas asked.
"Just, you know in case there's an accident. Insurance, you know."
"In case we need to make a claim for damaged hair."
Lucas wasn't sure about that, but he let him come along anyway. The lady who colored his hair was very nice, scolded him for having such a short cut, and showed him a few things about taking care of the hair. Uncle Curtis wound up buying a bag full of crazy products for Lucas to use.
"Why are you spending so much money on me lately?" Lucas asked.
"I'm just worried that you'd think I wasn't being responsible for getting you through this undercover assignment," Uncle Curtis replied. "This sort of story could be big."
Lucas agreed. "I think it's going to change my life."
"That's probably not far off the mark," Uncle Curtis said. "Say, have you thought about wearing an artifical vagina?"
"What!?" Lucas yelped. What kind of suggestion was that!? "Wear a fake... pussy?"
"Don't be rude. But yes, that way you wouldn't have to worry about being found out." Well, as Lucas stood in the principal's office, adjusting his little skirt around his hips, it suddenly sounded like a fantastic idea. His Uncle was a really good thinker. He always had great ideas. In reflection, Lucas was pretty sure that he wouldn't have even made it this far if it weren't for his Unk. He decided to wear that fake vagina every day from now on.
Thirty minutes later, after the Vice Principal finally stopped begging for forgiveness, Lucas was staring out the window of his next class, and watched as Becky was put into the back of an ambulance. She seemed to be bound tightly to the gurney. Lucas didn't think was the usual procedure, but maybe they were just being careful so she didn't fall off. Insurance, you know. Funny thing was, that he didn't see her at school the next day. Or the one after that. Or the day after that.
Which was just fine with Lucas. He'd die if Becky told anybody about what she saw. After all, everyone would then know the horrible, horrible truth - he wasn't a natural blonde.
For the third time this week, Lucas got no answer when he gave Sol a ring. It had been a while since he had last talked to his frind, and he missed him terribly. No. Not really. Truth was he wanted his grade in Algebra changed from an F to a B. Sol was the onlyone who knew how to do that.
Now what was he going to do?
Lucas rolled around on hos bed, facing up to the ceiling. "I can't do this alone!" He said to no one. Uncle Curtis had ben a big help, buying him all the stuff he needed. But he had no idea how to act like a girl. He was lost.
Not to mention that not a single person seemed to care about Lucas. They did't miss him. They didn't have some sort of ceremony at school for him. No one had emailed or called. No one cared at all. He might as well be dead.
Lucas wiped a tear away from his eye, careful not to smear his mascara. He felt forgotten. Insignifigant. Non-existent.
He grabbed a stuffed unicorn on his pillow and cried into it. More than cry, he gushed like an open fire hydrant. He couldn't stop it. He hadn't cried like this since he was a child, and it scared him. Which caused even more crying.
As he squoze the stuffe animal tighter, he could feel the odd sensation that it caused in his chest. His nipples tickled. So he giggled. He tossed the unicorn aside and walked to the mirror in his room. He was dressed in a miniskirt Cricket had told him to buy, and a tee shirt that read "Cheer Rules!" onit. He started to laugh. He had just been crying like a girl. Just like a girl. That made him feel pretty silly so he started to laugh even harder.
He felt his nipples again. Then he came to the sudden realization that they were bigger. Puffier. They were breasts. Real breasts. So he started to cry again, unable to understand what was happening to him.
Why was he growing breasts? Why was he having these mood swings? He took another set of pills from his bedside and swallowed them down to try and calm his fears. They always made him feel better.
The away game had been a disaster for the team. It rained, it was foggy, nobody from Fairfax even bothered to come and the bus broke down on the way there. They were late and didn't get to practice or even stretch. When the game started, Quarterback Danny Driscoll was injured in the first five minutes and they couldn't get back on track. Nothing worked. They lost by fourteen points and everyone was miserable.
Except Lucas. It was his second game, and he was as excited as he'd ever been. Now he knew the routines. He knew the music. Most importantly, he was out with his team, working with his pals. He was falling in love with this, he felt that cheering and dancing was like living on pure adrenaline. He had waited a whole week to be out there again, and all that anticipation that had been building up exploded in his performance. To lose yourself in the team, to work in total sync with everyone else, to motivate everyone on the field, and lead the crowd in the stands was beyond exhilarating. Lucas was on top of the world.
He was kicking higher than he ever had before, thanks to those miracle tablets from his uncle, and he was jumping and clapping like it was up to him and him alone to win the game. It was almost embarassing, they way he was acting. Although he certainly didn't feel embarassed anymore. If anyone felt embarassed, it was the rest of the squad, who had been down ever since they got off the bus.
In fact, when they came off the field, Lucas was slow to realize that he must have ticked off the rest of the team. He realized hehad been shut out from the group. They didn't talk to him, or even look at him. They just whispered to each other, stealing glances over their shoulders. On the bus home, the girls were sitting a few seats away, talking to themsleves, and Lucas was by himself.
He was sure they were avoiding him. Maybe he had gone too far. He had gone over the top to try and fit in. Lucas had noticed that he had less and less time for anything else in his life. He wasn't even getting his homework done these days. Every spare moment of his day he was either keeping up on fashion, reading girl's books, watching girl's movies, practicing cheerleading, checking out cheerleading on the internet or watching it on TV. He should back off. This was going over the top, and getting out of control. He might even be losing some of his journalistic impartiality.
"Krystie?" Someone said from behind. Lucas turned around to see it was Cricket.
"Yeah?" Lucas said, a little worried as to where this was going. It didn't feel good to him.
"We've been talking it over, and..." Cricket looked nervous. "We really need to say..."
Lucas didn't want to hear the rest. This was going to blow his whole plan.
"We have to apologize to you," Cricket took a seat next to Lucas. "See, since we didn't really know you, we kinda held off on making you a part of the group. We treated you real, real, real, real bad"
Kelsee then joined the conversation. "You really brought the whole energy of the team up out there tonight! You were super!"
"Yah!" Cricket said, cheerily. "Krystie, you WERE the team out there tonight. We were all, like, toally bummed out an' stuff!" She put her hand on his shoulder. "You kept us in there, though. You really showed your spirit tonight. And so, well..."
Kelsee picked it up. "We all talked it over, and...."
"Turn around and close your eyes!" Cricket said. Lucas did, not knowing why. He then felt something cold on his neck. "Okay! Open!"
Lucas opened his eyes to find a necklace fastened. He saw that a large silver "6" was now around his neck. Six?
"You're now officially one of The Nines!!" Cricket screamed with glee.
Lucas took a second look and realized he was looking at it upside down. It was indeed a "9." He was being initiated.
"Keep holding still." Cricket said. Lucas could smell something burning.
"What are you doing?" He asked.
"Sautering the necklace on!" Cricket said, as if it were the most wonderful thing in the world. "So you can never take it off!" She briefly showed him a small pocket blowtorch to prove the point. Did all girls carry around pocket blowtorches? There was so much about being a girl he didn't understand.
The girls then gathered around and started to sing a song, welcoming him into the group. Lucas couldn't quite make out the words, but he did pick up "nine," "sisters for life" and something about boys. And even though he hadn't understood much more than a couple of words, he joined in he singing. How could he not?
He was still singing the song as he laid his head down on his pillow that night. He idly fingered the smooth necklace, as he had since ever he got it. Was he proud of getting it? Maybe he was. Lucas had always thought about getting a necklace. Maybe some gold chains, with a big gold and diamond pendant that said "Gagsta" on it or something classy like that. But this was good enough. He liked the sensation on his skin. He liked the weight. It certainly felt like it belonged around his neck.
But as he thought about it more, he was kind of alarmed that it had been permanently affixed to him. Sure, he could cut it off with some heavy-duty shears, but he'd have to keep it on as long as he was undercover. And that got him thinking. Why didn't they want him to take it off? And that song he was singing, why couldn't he make out the words?
It started to all fall into place for him. The words were a chant. A magical spell of some sort. That's why he didn't understand it. And the necklace. It was some sort of magical talis... tal... talism.. charm. A magical charm. It had to be. It was the only thing the girls in The Nines all wore, and it was practically attached to you.
He felt it, clutching it in his hands. Did it feel warm? Was it tingling?
This was the way they were affecting the girls. This is what made them witches, gave them the power to drain the popularity of girls and claim them for their own. And it was devious. The girls never even suspected they were doing it. They thought it was a tradition and a token of team unity.
But what it was, was much more sinister than that. This was the method they used to claim their prey.
And now this thing - this concentrated evil, was chained to him. He felt drawn to it. It was becoming a part of him.
First thing in the morning, Lucas made straight for the school library, looking for a clue. A clue to the origins of the cheerleader vampires. Not having spent much time in the library, he quickly found himself hopelessly lost, surrounded by things he didn't understand. Books.
He followed the smell of mimeograph ink and eventually found his way to the help desk, staffed by a student assistant. She was of standard library fare, in her glasses and conservative plaid jumper. Her red hair was braided up into one huge pigtail, exposing the clammy white skin of her face and forehead for all to be blinded by. It was a stark contrast to Lucas, who was dressed in a pink double-layer v-neck top with flutter sleeves and a denim knee-length skirt.
But Lucas knew the girl at the desk. Her name was Elizabeth, and she was the top dog in her own little corner of the world. The chess club, debate club and student council all had her as treasurer. She was president of the Future Business Leaders of America, and also a state champion in archery. Amongst the brains and geeks, Elizabeth was the ideal girl. She was smart, well-liked and respected. The office staff and the teachers all loved her.
Which is why Lucas - and anyone who was cool - had so little respect for Elizabeth. She wasn't hated exactly, just suspect. Suspected of not being one of... them. As such, she was left alone. She fraternized with the enemy, and whatever you said to her could easily wind up in the principal's office in a matter of minutes. She was a narc.
As he had grown used to doing, Lucas had to pretend not to know of her, as "Krystie" was the new girl on campus. He needed to pretend they had never met, that he didn't know her, and genrally played it dumb. Which was surprisingly easy. "Um, Hi!" Lucas said. Elizabeth didn't even lift her head from the book she was reading. Cold as ice. Lucas just soldiered on. "I was looking for, um, old yearbooks? You know, the ones from past years?"
Elizabeth peered over the top of her glasses for a long contemplative moment and then pointed to a nearby shelf. She then returned to her book. "Nice necklace, cheerleader." Elizabeth said, derisively.
"Yeah. Thank..." Lucas started to say, first with a smile. But by the time he was saying "...you," he had picked up on her snooty tone. Elizabeth was practically sneering at him. Lucas turned away quiety and left the desk swiftly. Well, that was fun. He had thought being a cheerelader would at least get you some crediblity at school, but so far, it was like every girl on campus hated him. Except the The Nines, of course. So he pretty much hung around them for safety.
Lucas grabbed a few of the school yearbooks, one for every ten years of time. It had occurred to him that vampires and witches could live for probably, like, dozens of years. So if true, there could be records of the cheerleaders going back for a while.
His blood ran cold when he saw the truth. Sure enough, Lucas found what he suspected. In every yearbook, going back to the very beginning of the school, there were cheerleading clubs. Pep squads, spirit committees, rally girls. Whatever they were called, they were there every single year.
The group photos showed the same nine girls year after year. Never aging. Oh, they had changed their faces, eyes, height and ethnicity, but Lucas was too clever to be fooled by that. Every one of the had the necklace. The evidence was clear. This same gang of cheerleader vampire witches had preyed upon this school for over fifty years. There was no doubt in his mind.
He left the books with Elizabeth, dumping them on her desk. She sighed heavily. Lucas didn't notice. He wandered out of the library in a bit of a daze, trying to comprehend the scope of what he now knew. The girls on the squad may not even be aware of what they were doing. Someone - or some thing - was controlling them. Their minds must have been wiped clean, their faces and bodies re-sculpted and then put back in to the school, to find new victims. New souls to harvest. How horrible. How truly, truly horrible.
As Lucas started to walk back to his locker, he felt the necklace around his neck. It felt so cold, this peice of sinister metal against his skin. It was ice cold. A thought then ocurred to him, that he should look up the necklace as well. Maybe the school library had some books on evil metals and cursed necklaces he could look at.
Returning to the library, Elizabeth was filing some books away at the shelves. Lucas noted she was perched high, atop of what must have been one of those sliding ladders you find in libraries. He looked up at her. "Um, Lizzie? I have another question." He asked.
"My name is Elizabeth. Not Lizzie." The girl replied. She stretched to file one of the books, not quite reaching the spot.
"Hey, hold on." Lucas noted her difficulty. "I can slide the ladder for you."
"No! Don't!" Elizabeth yelped.
"No problem, I'll just slide it on down..."
"This isn't a sliding ladder!" Elizabeth yelled. She leaned heavily in one direction, to compensate.
Lucas backed off, not even touching anything, but Elizabeth had already lost her balance. "Look out!" he yelled, but it was too late. Elizabeth came crashing down, a small pile of books falling down with her, and struck the hard linoluem floor with her shoulder. There was a sharp crack as she hit.
Her screaming pierced the calm of the library, and in a blink, three or four people barged past Lucas, coming to Elizabeth's aid. Quickly, Lucas found himself being pushed out of the way. He was shocked and frightened, afraid for Elizabeth. It sounded like a really bad hit.
He backed out of the library, looking for the open air of the courtyard to catch his breath. Lucas watched, feeling acutely guilty as a stream of school staff and the school nurse ran into the library to tend for poor Elizabeth.
He wandered over to a bench where he brushed away the dirt before taking a seat, carefully tucking his skirt under him and keeping his knees together for modesty. He couldn't help but feel a little responsible for what had just happened, even though he really hadn't done anything.
It wasn't his fault. He didn't touch the ladder. He had done nothing. Nothing at all. Not his fault. No.
"Fallications, dear maiden!" someone said. Lucas looked left, right, down and then finally looked up to see the scrawny figure of Barry Plimpkin, in all his lanky glory. "Perchance, might thou knowest of wherest yonder commotion doesth originate?" He said. Barry, by the way, was a bit of a nerd.
Ever since the first day he had known Barry, Lucas had never been able to understand a single word out of his mouth. No one really did. Fortunately, what Barry was talking about was pretty obvious to Lucas.
Lucas took his shoe off and looked inside. "A seven and a half," he replied.
"My humblest apologies, you doth misundertand," Barry replied, with an unecessary bow. "I was inquiring as to the events inside yon establishment of knowledge." Lucas still didn't quite get it, so Barry finally just pointed in the direction of the library.
"Yeah, uh... Elizabeth fell off the ladder. She probably broke her shoulder or something."
"Oh, for shame!" Barry prolaimed. "The fair Elizabeth was going to be our Princess Guenevere at our Fall harvest festival jousting tournament." Barry's expression of dismay was brief. He turned back with a look of eager anticipation that made Lucas' stomach churn. "Forgive this unworthy commoner, but might I prevail upon thou that you play Guenevere in her stead?"
"Take her place?" Lucas said, guessing correctly at what he meant.
"Or maybe as a lady in waiting, a hand maiden or serving wench?"
Lucas got to his feet to excuse himself. "No, that's okay. I'm good." Had Barry actually asked him to partiicpate in one of those incredibly stupid renaissance festivals? Lucas felt... offended that he had suggested it. Violated, even. He had been mentally raped by nerdetry. He clutched his necklace for strength, and walked away. Who did Barry think Lucas was? A nerd? A geek? He was nothing like them. Nothing like Elizabeth.
As he came to his locker, something suddenly occured to him. He had essentially just taken Elizabeth out of school. He had put her in the hospital. No sooner had that happened, than someone suggested that he take her place... It was like he had taken her role in the school! He had claimed Elizabeth's popularity!
As he felt the "nine" pendant in his hand, he felt warmth. It had happened. He was a part of the spell. He had sucked the life force out of a girl, and claimed it as his own, like some sort of... life-sucking-out thing.
That was how this all worked. The pendant fed on pain. It then rewarded the wearer with the popularity of its' victim. Did that mean that he, too, was now a witch?
The thought bounced around in his spacious mind, and started to drive him crazy. He flipped open his pink cell phone and dialed Sol's number. Still no reply. Where was Sol!? He was always there to explain things in the past. Now, he had no friends to help him. No place to go. How could he get out of this mess he had gotten himself into? All he wanted was a story. Now... He was part of the story. A story that was now out of control.
Curtis had been runing some numbers through his calculator, figuring out how much he was going to be raking in once he had Lucases' site up. It was a lot. He could swear the calculator was smoking.
All of the sudden, the front door opened and quickly slammed shut. He heard the steps of someone running quickly towards him. Sure, enough, it was Lucas. He was barely able to stand, his thin hairless legs going limp. It was immediately clear that he had been crying, as his mascara was running down his cheeks.
"Lucas?" Curtis asked.
Lucas tried to steady himself. "Wuh... Wuh... What..." He cried, as his resolve quickly disintegrated. "They made me one of them!" He wailed. His emotions overwhelmed him, and he melted into his Uncle's shoulder, and started to cry like a baby.
"Uh..." Curtis was not prepared for this. He had never ben any good with kids, and certainly didn't know what to do with a crying one. "What's going on?"
Lucas broke from his sobbing for a moment, and said "The cheerleaders made me one of them, and now I'm making people fall of ladders and then I get their friends and I'm a vampire!" That was all he could manage before he went back to crying.
"Um... It's going to be okay?" Curtis said, searching for any sort of reply to what he had just heard.
Suddenly, Lucas burst out again. "And why am I crying!? WHY AM I CRYING!?" He wiped away some tears, and abruptly broke into a smile. "Isn't it funny how I'm acting ike a girl? All emotional and everything? It's so strange." And then the tears came flooding back. "Why am I crying like a girl, Uncle Curtis!? Why!?" He started crying again, and collapsed in a heap on the table.
"Ah... I gotta make a call." Curtis said, clumsily excusing himself. He dashed off to his secret stairway and trundled down the stairs to his sanctuary – the basement. He fell into his giant office chair and took some deep breaths. That kid was really going nuts, as far as he was concerned. He had put up with all this nonsense about the cheerleading squad because it was a good excuse to get the boy in a skirt. Now it looked like the little twerp actually beleived it.
But that wasn't what freaked Curtis out the most. He had been able to raise the boy becasue boys are fairly low-maintennance. You give them access to the fridge, a TV and some clothes and they're good to go. But raising a girl was completely different. Girls were so needy. They wanted things. Like clothes, hair appointments, and other weird things you had to go to the drug store for. Worst of all, they wanted to talk... Curtis shuddered... About their... He shuddered again... about their feelings.
Left on his own, Lucas seemed to be coming apart. The boy was a wreck. And what the heck was he supposed to do about it?
"Why the hell did you have to die, Sis?" He asked himself.
Curtis then had an idea. That was exactly what the kid needed. A mom. A female influence. Someone who could help him grow into being a girl. Someone to be there when Lucas needed help. Someone to keep the little brat out of Curtis' hair.
He flipped open his address book and went through a few names. Then he found exactly what he was looking for. He dialed the number.
"Well if it isn't Fairfax High's own little sweat factory."
Sitting on the bench out in the school courtyard, Lucas flinched, and shook himself out of his fog. His mind was swirling with what seemed to be happening to him. It had been like that all day. Who was talking to him? Courtney. It was Courtney talking to him. "Hi, Courtney," he said, before realizing he should have said it with much more spite. She had ruined a perfectly good hairdo when they met last.
"You're not still sour over that little prank the other day?" She asked. "Well, I don't want you thinking ill of me, so please accept this as a way to make it up to you." She then held out an envelope for Lucas.
"Thanks?" He replied.
"Don't mention it." Courtney said, before walking past him. "I was going to invite that Elizabeth girl before her unfortunate accident. But with her in a body cast, I don't think that's going to happen. Daddy hates the crippled people so." She smiled warmly. "I do hope you can make it."
Lucas puzzled over that statement, so he examined the envelope. He broke the foil heart seal and removed the card inside. It was an invitation. Courtney was holding a party at her sea-side estate and Lucas was invited.
Actually, Krystie was invited, but that was a technicality. He was going to a party! A Courtney Chase party! What a coup! Only the elite of the popular kids got to go to those! Maybe Courtney wasn't so bad after all.
Of course, it was just another indication that he had sucked the popularity right out of Elizabeth. He was not only being invited to fairs, but now he was invited to a party in Elizebeth's place. He felt horrible. He had just stolen that poor girl's whole social worth for his own. Like a vampire. Like the Cheerleader witch vampire he feared he was becoming.
Oh well. He put the invite back in the envelope and ran off excitedly to show it to the squad.
Curtis was shaken out of his afternoon nap by the doorbell ringing. Since he was expecting someone, he grudgingly moved his body off the couch on onto his feet. He grunted and wheezed as he approached the front door. Peering through the peephole, he recognized who it was immediately.
She really hadn't changed much. Oh, she had put on a few pounds, but was still a knockout. Too bad she didn't know how to dial things down very well. She just could never help but make a spectacle of herself.
Curtis opened the door, and stuck a smile on his face. "How the hell are you, baby?"
"Curtis, you lyin' sack of shit. You better not be pullin my leg on this one. Is this a real gig?"
"It's real all right. Are you sure you're up for it?"
"Well here I am, ain't I? It's the role of a lifetime!" She took a long drag on the cigarette she was smoking and blew it out over her head. Her six-inch heels clacked loudly on the hard wood floor as she stepped inside. "Ginger Kramz is here to be a mother!"
Lucas found Cricket and Kelsee chatting in the hall, and flamboyantly showed off the invite. "Hey, hey hey! Lookit what..." And then he noticed that they, too, had the very same invitations. "Oh. You guys got invited too?"
"She invites everyone." Cricket said.
"Well, everyone who isn't a total dork." Kelsee added.
Guess that explained why he hadn't been invited before.
Hey - wait a minute...
"If she only invited her friends, she'd be the only one there." Kelsee giggled.
Cricket laughed as well. "You're so bad. I'm not even going, are you Krystie?"
Lucas stared at the invite in his hands. He flipped it around a few times. "Why aren't you guys going?"
"They're just so dull," Kelsee said. "It's all this awful rich-people food and slow music. Her parents do the whole thing."
"Can you imagine letting your parents plan your parties? Oh my God, that's so awful."
Lucas still twirled the invite in his fingers. "So you don't want to go?"
"If you want to go, go." Cricket replied.
Lucas was tentative. "Not if you guys aren't going."
"So do you want us to go?" Kelsee asked.
"Not if you don't want to." Lucas said.
"Do you want to go?" Cricket inquired.
"Only if you want to go."
"Well, I don't want to go." Kelsee stated.
"Okay, so I won't go." Lucas answered.
"But you want to go." Cricket clarified.
"Not if you guys aren't..."
"So you say you're going to a party?" Uncle Curtis said as he dropped the bucket of fried chicken on the couch for dinner. "As yourself, or..."
"Of course as myself. Duh." Lucas replied.
"Right." Now, what exactly did that mean? The kid had been acting a little odd lately. "I mean, are you going to be wearing..."
"I haven't decided yet," was what Lucas said.
Curtis still didn't have an answer. "So, at this party... the people will be calling you..."
"No, I don't need them to call me."
Curtis rubbed his chin. This was like pulling teeth. "Will you be Krystie, or Lucas?"
"It's not like I have different personalities, you know." Lucas sighed. "I'm always the same person."
"Talking to you is like setting my head on fire." Uncle Curtis quipped.
"Did I tell you we have a guest? She's out getting some more appropriate clothes...” He stumbled on his words. “For uh, the weather, that is."
"Who is she?" Lucas asked.
"An old friend of mine. Someone who used to work for me."
"What kind of stuff?"
"She was... was... was... So this party, who's giving it?"
"Courtney Chase," Lucas said with hatred. "I hate her."
"You hate her. So you're going to her party?"
"Of course I am!"
"Of course your are. Silly question. Is that because all your friends are going?"
"No. Barely anyone goes. They hate going."
"But you're going. You hate her, everyone hates her, so you're going."
"Who's this lady who's staying with us?"
"She's just an old friend who's going to stay with us for a while."
"How long is that going to be?"
"Until you're ready."
"I mean, until she's ready." He brought it down to a whisper. "She's had some rough times lately. Better not talk about it with her. She's very sensitive about it. Doesn’t like to talk about her past. Very very sensitive."
"Sensitive about what? What lies are you telling now?" Ginger Krams said, from the front hallway, out of sight of the room they were in.
"Uh, well, here she is!" Curtis got up to do the introductions. "Luc... I mean.. Krys..." Crud. He had no idea what to call him. "Kid. This is my old friend, meet..." Double crud. He had no idea what to call Ginger either. He sat back down a gain and stared at the floor. "Why don't you two introduce each other?"
As he tried to gather himself, Curtis then realized that he hadn't yet seen what Ginger was wearing. She was liable to have bought anything. He had asked her to get something more presentable, but to Ginger that could just mean a demi-cup bra instead of pasties. He sprang to his feet to catch her before she came into sight. Too late.
Fortunately, he was relieved to see she had actually done the impossible. She looked like a regular person. More or less. She wore a tasteful pink turtleneck sweater, loose blue jeans and a pair of sneakers. She had even removed the piercing from her nipples, as Curtis could tell from the smoothness of her stress-testing sweater.
"I'm Ginger." The woman said, smiling warmly. "You didn't tell me you had such a cutie on your hands, Curtis."
"Uh..." Lucas was at a loss. He wasn't sure what this woman knew. He wasn't sure what she had been told. “Hi.” Was all he said.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Ginger replied.
“Yeah.” Lucas replied.
“Yes!” Uncle Curtis said. “Good.”
“Uh huh.” Ginger added.
Lucas stood there, swaying in his spot.
Ginger looked over at Curtis.
Curtis smiled back.
“Awkward!” Lucas blurted out.
Lucas’ phone rang. He picked it up, flipped it open and stuck it to his ear like faster than Wyatt Earp could draw his six-shooter. “Great! Bye!” He said, his conversation lasting for only a second. He ran for the door. “Going shopping! Bye! Good to meet you Ginger!”
Left alone to try and fill the void, Curtis and Ginger blinked blankly at one another. “Kids,” Curtis said, shrugging.
“I remember when I was that age.” Ginger said, somewhat wistfully. “There’s nothing more important to a girl than her friends. They always work in a pack.”
“Yeah, teenage girls. They’re so unpredictable.” Curtis agreed.
Ginger took a seat in a chair. “Sugar, who in the world are you trying to fool?”
“Oh my God!” Kelsee said, as Lucas go in the car.
“Oh my God!” Lucas replied in kind.
“Oh my God!” Cricket added.
“Oh... My... God!” they said in unison. They seemed intensely excited by the fact that they had met, as they had planned to for well over two days, exactly in the fashion they expected to. Every single one of them were practically vibrating with energy, bouncing in their seats, fighting the very confines of the small mini-van they were in. Which was why the driver of the mini-van, Kelsee’s mother, was speeding through traffic in a desperate attempt to dump the kids off at the mall before she lost her sanity.
After the van sped away, it wasn’t long before the four kids met up with the other members of the squad. Cherry, Katelynn, Amber, Heather, Petra and the other Heather.
“Oh my God!” They said, upon meeting each other.
Amber hugged the nearest girl. “I can’t believe it! We’re all at the mall!”
As hard to imagine that such circumstances could come to pass, there were still more shocking revelations to behold.
“I can’t make up my mind where to start!” Cricket said. “There’s so many places to shop!” Indeed. Only their steely resolve and iron wills would see them though until the mall closed.
“Kelsee! Where do you want to start!?” One of the Heathers asked.
“Wellllll...” Kelsee started, “I know that Cherry has a wedding she needs a dress for. Amber, you need shoes to replace the ones you lost on Tuesday...”
Cricket interrupted. “You need a bracelet to match the necklace you got yesterday, Kelsee.”
“Oh my God, I almost forgot.” Kelsee answered. “Katelynn needs to get some barrettes for her little sisters’ birthday on Monday.”
“I was thinking maybe a Princess Pixie doll, too.” Katelynn added.
“You love your sister sooo much,” the other Heather commented with unabashed envy.
“I wish my older sister was as nice as you, Katelyn,” Cricket said. “Oh, Krystie needs an outfit for Courtney’s party.”
Kelsee picked it back up. “Yeah, and Heather K. wants to try the new juice place...”
“The Juice Moose!” Heather K. interjected.
“Petra needs to find a lipstick to match her new hair color,” Kelsee picked up again, “and Heather P. wants to get a set of towels for her Aunt’s bridal shower.”
Lucas, his head spinning, was already tired after just hearing that. He started to look around, unable to even understand where to go.
“What time is it? Four?” Kelsee checked her watch. “Okay, so we’ll go to Claire’s for the barrettes, then two stores down to Payless for Amber’s shoes, towels across the walkway at Pottery Barn, and then it’ll be four-fifty, so we’ll eat at the food court downstairs, and then work to the right, where we can get the doll at Kay Bee, lipstick for Petra at Sephora is next door, and then up the escalator to Blossom’s to get a gown for Cherry and a dress for Krystie. By that time, we’ll have worked off dinner and then we’ll be at the juice place.”
“What about your bracelets, Kelsee?” Cricket asked.
“Oh my God, I’m such an airhead! I keep forgetting that. Okay, so after we eat, we’ll work left and then hit Jangle’s, then reverse it to Blossom’s, Sephora and Kay Bee. Then juice. By that time, it’ll be eight-forty and we can spend the remaining time at the luggage store.”
“Luggage store?” Lucas asked.
“Jeremy Winterbottom works there at close every night. He’s sooooo cute!”
The giggles and swooning from the girls indicated that they felt the same way.
Lucas was holding his jaw so it wouldn’t drop. They may have been a bunch of scatter-brained girls, but he was witness to a plan made with military precision. Obviously, what brains the girls had was dedicated almost entirely to shopping. Maybe they weren’t as dumb as they acted – maybe they were just covering for their true purpose.
Diabolical witchcraftery! They were evil incarnate!
“Krystie, can you lend me a scrunchie?” Cricket asked. “I’ll trade you for some strawberry bubblegum.”
“Deal.” Lucas pulled a spare scrunchie off his wrist and handed it to her, and accepted the gum – which he promptly popped in his mouth.
Even now, he knew he was amongst the most dangerous beings to ever emerge from the nether world. Demonic presences unlike any evil ever contemplated. But he was ever vigilant. Lucas blew a bubble and popped it.
“Ooh, I like this. It’s sweet!” He chirped.
Cricket agreed. “And chewy!”
They made their way down the mall in a haphazard fashion, breaking into smaller groups and wandering off, but like there was elastic in between them, the girls quickly collected back together. Even with seemingly random changes in direction and a habit of back-tracking into stores they had just been in, they were progressing according to plan.
It wasn’t long before they stopped at the first clothing store, and the girls spread out in formation through the racks of clothes, examining every last scrap of fabric. The girls held things up to themselves to apparently imagine what they would look like if they were two-dimensional and had their 3-D heads floating above their flat bodies.
Lucas did much the same, just picking up random items to look like he was keeping pace.
Then, just like someone had set off a dog whistle that Lucas couldn’t hear, the girls all made for the changing rooms at once. In a panic, Lucas toted along what he had been pretending to be interested in. He noted the presence of a saleslady, which made him feel even more self-conscious.
“Show us!” the girls said to one another. “I wanna see that on you!”
Then, the girls quickly changed in their stalls to model the clothes they wanted. Cricket, then Kelsee, then Cherry, then Katelynn... Then, it suddenly dawned on Lucas that he was going to have to change into the things he had brought with him. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t take that chance. These girls were running around in their bras and panties, from stall to stall, grabbing outfits and then showing the off to the group. How the heck was he supposed to do that?
“Show us, Krystie!” Amber said.
“I bet that would look great on you!” Heather K. said.
The saleslady, who had been watching over this event with kind but observant eyes, pushed Lucas along to an empty stall. “You can use this one.” Obviously, she wanted this commotion to come to an end and get these loud girls out of her store. She had correctly identified Lucas as the one thing prohibiting that from happening.
After going inside, Lucas just clutched the clothes in his arms, petrified. He didn’t move. There was no way he was going to move. The earth could split in two and he’d be the one person still standing, his will defying the cosmos. He would not budge from this spot.
The saleslady was patient. She had noticed that the feet in that stall weren’t doing much, and gave her little friend a moment before pushing things along.
“You don’t have to try this on if you don’t want to, cutie,” she said. “It’s not a law or anything.”
“Will I be letting my friends down if I don’t show it to them?” Lucas said. “They’ve all done it. Now I have to do it.”
“Are you shy about your body? You don’t have to be shy. You’re very beautiful.”’
“Thank you, I guess,” Lucas said, looking at his feet.
“But you still don’t want to wear it, do you? Is it that time of the month? Girl problems? That’s it, isn’t it? Girl problems.” She set the clothes down that she had been holding and headed out to the floor. “I’ll just tell your friends that the store can’t have you and your friends trying on so many clothes without buying them, and it’s time to leave. That will no one will know about your girl problems.”
Lucas exited the stall and put the clothes in her hands. He looked up and sighed. “Ma’am, I’m not even really a girl.”
After a moment, the saleslady winked with a smile. Then, in a natural baritone voice, she said “buddy, even us guys can have girl problems.” She smiled and giggled to herself as she left.
Confused, Lucas quickly scooted out of the store, catching up to the squad. They had already moved on, and forgotten all about waiting for Lucas as they thought about the next store they were going to visit.
Lucas, just kept staring back into the store, trying to understand what had just happened. Then, he decided to follow his better instincts: ignore it and pretend like it never happened.
By the time they stopped at the store the girls had identified for buying Lucas a dress for the party, the girls didn’t so much as walk from place to place, as they leaned into each other and swooped from friend to friend, somehow moving them all forward as a group. The conversations had regressed to one and two word sentences. Which even for them, was simple-minded. Still, they had no problem knowing what each other was saying.
“Krystie!” Amber said, interrupting a sustained fit of giggling from Lucas.
Lucas immediately knew they were here for him. After a few hours, his inhibition towards clothes had somewhat subsided. He quickly went through the racks and found five prospects for his dress. One was immediately put back by Kelsee, and two more were added by the other Heather and Cricket.
He ran to the dressing room, stripped himself down to the padding, and changed into the first dress, an off-white halter smock-style dress that was immediately rejected by the girls. He agreed with them one-hundred percent.
Also rejected was a peach pleated tube dress, a mixed print chiffon dress and a god-awful plaid thing. Finally, he sopped on a poplin jumper dress in red. The girls all smiled and silently approved.
“It’s not too short, is it?” Lucas asked, able to see his knees.
“I was thinking it was way too long actually,” Cricket said. “But it really looks good on you.
“You don’t think its a little too wizard of Oz, Dorothy sorta looking?”
“Yes,” Kelsee agreed. “But like Cricket said, it really looks good on you. You have to get it.”
“I like that it has pockets,” Lucas said, letting his boyish nature show through. “And it’s suggestive in the bodice without being too revealing. The cut flatters my waist and accentuates my hips,” he added, letting his non-boyish nature show.
“Sold!” Kelsee declared. “Now I need a dress for the party, too.”
“Me too.” Cricket added.
“If it’s a Courtney Chase party, I’d better get something as well,” Katelynn said.
Lucas looked puzzled. “I thought you said you guys didn’t want to go?”
Kelsee shrugged. “We’re a team,” she said nonchalantly, “we do everything together.”
Lucas watched the girls go off in search of dresses. As he did, he suddenly felt a warmth in his heart he had never felt before. He could feel all tingly. His anxiety was swept away in a burst of good feelings. Lucas checked his pulse, then his forehead for a temperature. Was he having a spell? A heart attack? Maybe he needed to see a doctor.
The evening came to a close as the girls leaned over a railing, with a clear view of the store where Jeremy Winterbottom was working. For a change, the girls were talking in hushed tones, with only scattered giggles amongst them. They all seemed to be totally enthralled by the sight of this boy. Lucas, given some time to think, tried to imagine what the girls were feeling.
What exactly did they see in him? He was just some guy. Yes, he was bigger than most and had the looks of an actor, but what was the attraction? He tried to imagine being close to Jeremy. Close enough that he could see what held the attention of the girls.
Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. After all, if he were so close to Jeremy, the dolt might actually try and kiss him. He tried to picture that: this kid placing his lips onto Lucas’ and then trying to kiss. He idly wondered what a guy must taste like. Becky was always eating mints and Lucas could smell her shampoo. That’s what kissing had always been like for him.
Would he be able to smell Jeremy’s shampoo? Maybe a musky cologne. That wouldn’t be so bad. As Jeremy’s tongue worked its’ way into Lucas’ mouth, would it be warmer or colder? Would he push in or explore? What would he...
“Krystie!” Cricket called from five stores away, where the girls were. “We’re leaving!”
The light was fading in the sky, and the streetlight were starting to flicker on. As Lucas waved good-bye to his friends, watching them drive away until they were completely out of sight, he sighed with a smile. Clutching his half-finished cup from The Juice Moose, he was content and happy. His friends were great to be around, and he loved to just go with the flow. Maybe he had lost a little bit of his identity in the process, but he was willing to make the sacrifice for what he now had. A clique. He was coming down off a drug. He beginning to think he was addicted to his friends.
That was when Lucas looked across the street at Sol’s house. The friends he had now were so different than what Sol was. Sol was always trying to reign him in. He was always trying to meddle in Lucas’s life. He almost treated Lucas like a pet, the way he talked ‘down’ to Lucas and humored his suggestions and ideas. Now he was with people who liked what he had to say, who looked up to him. When Lucas said stuff with the squad, it was treated with respect. No more condescending Sol and his holier-than-thou attitude. He could do without Sol now. He didn’t need him.
That was when Lucas’s eyes drifted to a sign on the lawn of Sol’s house, which up until now had slipped past his keen perceptive talents. It read “for sale.” Then, he noticed the sign on top of that sign that said “sold.”
Feeling acutely uncomfortable, Uncle Curtis tried to focus on watching TV. Unfortunately, a low whine was interrupting his enjoyment of celebrity Jeopardy this evening. Initially, he thought of simply turning up the volume to drown out the noise. But Ginger shot him a death stare when he attempted to do it, so he merely tried to tune out the sound.
He could stop the noise, by unplugging it or moving it out of the room. But the noise wasn’t coming from a device, it was from his nephew Lucas, who was bawling like a six year old who’d dropped their ice cream cone on the sidewalk.
Lucas has his head buried into Ginger’s ample chest, using her bosom as a pillow. He had been crying for over ten minutes now, ever since he saw the “sold” sign on the house across the way.
Now, Lucas just couldn’t stop crying. “Poor kid’s turning into a sissy,” Curtis mumbled to himself. “Kinda the point, I guess...” He added, trailing off.
Ginger patted Lucas on the head as he poured out his tears into her. “There, there, sugar. Just let it out.”
Lucas sniffled and snorted, his emotions just destroying his self-composure. He tried to speak, but his voice just seized up on him, and he could only verbalize great wailing gasps of noise.
“So, he must have left a note or a message...” Ginger said. “Maybe you haven’t looked everywhere yet...”
“I looked!” Lucas blurbled. “N-n-n-nothing!”
“I’m going to move to another room,” Curtis said, raising himself to his feet.
Suddenly, Lucas’ face, flush red from crying, snapped around. “You don’t understand anything!” He screamed, in octaves the boy had not previously reached, and he ran at top speed toward his bedroom.
Uncle Curtis, his expression frozen in shock, dropped himself back in his chair. “What’d I do?” He said.
Ginger exhaled through her nose. “Y’all don’t have no sense, do you?”
Lucas flopped onto his bed and using his arms, he drew his fluffy pink comforter to his face, taking some pillows with it, and proceeded to cry all over again. Once more, his unprepared mind was overwhelmed by emotions stronger than he had ever felt before. He had no idea why he felt so insanely out of control. Sol was his best friend, his friend since he was a little kid. But still, Lucas had had pain in his life before. Big pain. But, even when his mom died, he didn’t feel this bad. This was agony.
With the tears slowing, but not stopping, Lucas rolled around on his bed and grabbed his phone.
“Kelsee!” He sobbed. “Sol’s gone! It’s so... So... So... Awful!”
“Krystie! Is that you!? You sound so sad!”
“This is the worst day of my life! Sol left, he moved out of his house... And he didn’t even tell me or anything!”
“I’m so sorry for you! Is there anything I can do?”
“No. I... I... I... Just need someone to talk to. Someone who understands me.”
“So? Was he your boyfriend or something?”
Lucas, his chest heaving with anguish and his eyes still leaking tears, realized he couldn’t vent to Kelsee. There was no context. He couldn’t say that he had just lost his best friend, a guy. He couldn’t explain what he was feeling. He felt like he was going to explode, and his only hope for comfort was now just out of reach.
“Ohmigaaaaaaawd! He was your boyfriend, wasn’t he?” Kelsee asked.
Then, Lucas saw that she had just opened the door. If he just pushed the truth a little, he could tell her all about it. He now had a way to explain the way he felt.
“Yes!” He pronounced into the phone. “Yes! Sol was... Everything to me!”
“He just left you? He didn’t say anything at all?”
“No!” Lucas wailed. “He just left!”
“What a scum bag! Girl, you don’t deserve to be treated like that!”
“Why would he do it, Kelsee? Why? Didn’t our... Relationship mean anything to him?”
“He was no good for you, Krystie. Real men don’t just leave. He was a coward. He never loved you, and he was just leading you on!”
“No!” Lucas objected. “We knew each other for so long! I’ve known Sol since I was five! I know him, he’s a good guy!”
“If he was such a good guy, then why is he gone?”
“I... I... I don’t know...” And as the thought struck him, the tears came roaring back. “Why did he leave me, Kelsee!? Why!?”
“Hold on, girlfriend, I’m coming over!” Kelsee said.
If his body wasn’t a spigot of tears, Lucas may have had the conviction to tell Kelsee to stay home. But with his emotions swinging so far out of control, he could only welcome the comfort Kelsee promised. “Thanks, Kels.”
About ten minutes later, the doorbell rang, and Ginger was just able to avoid a high-speed collision with Kelsee, who dashed for Lucas’s room at top speed. Noting the blur passing by his field of vision, Curtis didn’t even bother to move his eyes from the TV. “Who was that?” He asked Ginger, as she returned to the room.
“Oh, how should know, honey-pie? I think it was one of the cheerleaders.” Ginger took a seat on the couch adjacent to Curtis’ recliner, waited a for a few patient minutes, and then spoke. “So, are you going to explain to me why you’re dressing up a boy as a girl?”
Curtis didn’t even twitch. “I was hoping not to.” He changed the channel a couple of times. “I consider it a private matter.”
“Bull shit,” Ginger said. “You’ve got some sort of angle on this, haven’t you?”
Curtis turned away from the set to address her. “I am shocked you would even suggest such a thing. My integrity is untouchable.” He went back to watching television. “Untouchable,” he added.
“Well then you can explain to me why he’s dressed like he is, and why you’re keeping it secret.”
“He’s just a little mixed up. It’s a phase.”
“Well, unless I’m very much mistaken, his ‘phase’ involves growing breasts.”
“Isn’t that amazing!?” Curtis said with a smile.
Ginger drummed her fingers on the armrest of her chair from a few moments, hoping her new employer would snap to his senses and answer the question that seemed to demand an answer. He seemed to have no intent to do so. “Now isn’t that something. So,” she said, smiling, “maybe you’d like to tell me exactly why he’s growing breasts at all?”
“Look,” Curtis said. His attention was still focused on the TV, and he waited almost a full minute before he followed through on the sentence he had started. “Look, I don’t expect you to understand. The boy wants to do this. He begged me. ‘Uncle Curtis,’ he says to me, ‘Uncle Curtis, pleeeease!’ He begged me. Begged me!”
“He begged you?”
“The kid’s been through a lot. He lost his mother, and he’s been kind of impulsive since then. He’s not a big thinker, that kid. So when he showed so much passion and thoughtfulness about being a girl, I knew he was doing something that was very hard for him to admit, and when he pleaded with me to let him dress in girls’ clothes, I did what I thought was right. I support him 110%. I’m doing everything I can to make sure he becomes the girl he wants to be.”
Ginger squinted. With years of history telling her that Curtis was no more capable of showing such compassion than he was to building a rocket to Mars, she didn’t quite believe him. Yet, there was no indication that anything else was responsible for this. The boy had obviously wanted this, as he had dressed and acted as like as girl since Ginger had arrived. He clearly wasn’t being forced to do anything, and God help her, she knew that Curtis had actually been helping him in every way he could.
“Curtis, you’re a snake,” she said. “And a snake can shed it’s skin. But you’re still a snake.” With that, she let the topic drop. For now.
“What’s wrong with me, Kelsee!?” Lucas wailed. “Why does everyone in my life leave me?”
Embraced by his fellow cheerleader, Kelsee was doing her best. “It just feels like that sometimes, Kyrsti. You still have a lot of people who love you.”
“My life is a lie!” Lucas yelled. “Everything is a lie! You guys have been so great to me, but it’s not real! I’m not real!”
“Stop saying that!” Kelsee admonished. “Y’know, like, um... Everyone feels like, they’re pretending sometimes, but that’s no big! So what if you gotta fake it? That’s part of life n’ stuff! Sometimes, you start off faking it, and then, before y’know it, it’s like real! You faked yourself into real!”
“Everyone’s faking it?” Lucas asked, shocked.
“Um, like, sure!” Kelsee said, her head tipping to the side and back up as she said it. “When I tried out for the squad, I told them, I was, like, a two-time champion cheerleader at my old school. It was the only way they even would let me try out!” She leaned in closer to whisper. “I was totally lying.” Then she sat back up. “But I made it!”
“I’m so totally serious!”
“But, I mean, that’s just one thing. I’ve been doing so much lying to...” Lucas’s sentence was stopped by the presence of Kelsee’s french-tipped fingernail on his lips.
“Like, don’t even tell me! I don’t want to know!” She just smiled. “Y’know, I’m not gonna, like, even be able to deal. Whatever you’re so stressing about can’t be that big n’ stuff.”
“But...” Lucas said with the finger still there.
“Okay, so maybe it is a big thing. What. Ever! I’m not like a priest, you don’t have to confess to me. An’ it’s not like you can talk to anyone who has, like magical powers an’ can fix it all, like, ‘poof.’” Kelsee removed her finger and leaned forward. “We’re all your friends, and we’ll be behind you no matter what. We really care about you, and now that you’re one of us, we stick together.”
“Really?” Lucas said, leaning forward as well. He looked deep into Kelsee’s eyes, and saw nothing but love there. He was so close he could feel the warmth radiating off Kelsee’s body. She was beautiful, inside and out. She was everything a girl should be.
As Kelsee hung there, so close to Lucas’s face, his attention turned to her glistening, moist lips. He had never noticed how inviting they were. Maybe because he had never been this close before. He turned his head slightly. And slowly.
“Can I try some of your lip gloss, Kels? Your lips are so awesome.” Lucas asked.
Kelsee dove for her purse. “I found it at the drug store near Payless.” She retrieved the tube, popped the top and dabbed the tip on Lucas’s lips. “This is my favorite flavor, too. They make a peach too, but it’s not nearly as good.”
Once she was done, she produced a hand mirror for Lucas to examine himself in. He liked it. “That rocks. You gotta get some for me.”
“Take this one.” Kelsee said.
“No, I can’t!” Lucas protested.
“I got a bunch more at home! Take it!”
“Thanks, Kels.” Lucas said, embracing the tube to his chest. “You’re, like the best.”
“Anything I can do, Krystie.” She paused for a moment, deciding if she should say what she was thinking. She decided she should. “You know, you can ask me for help anytime. About being a girl, I mean.”
Lucas seized up, gripping his bedsheets in fear. “What!?”
“Well, at first I thought you were like a tomboy or something. But now, I think you just...” As Kelsee searched for the word, Lucas imagined the many things she could say next, the many phrases she could say that would destroy his life, and fear ripped through his mind like wildfire. “...Like you were raised by wolves or whatever.”
Well, Lucas hadn’t thought about that particular phrase being a possibility.
“Not that I’m saying you’re not really pretty an’ sexy an’ stuff but sometimes you’re like a jungle girl.”
Lucas wasn’t sure wolves lived in the jungle, but he could be wrong. He wasn’t an animalologist or anything.
Slightly embarrassed, Kelsee backed away a little. “That came out all wrong. Just, if you wanted to be little more of a girly-girl, I’m here for you.”
“That’s so cool of you,” Lucas said, hugging Kelsee. He could definitely use some help. “Show me something that a girly-girl does to be more... Girlish.”
Kelsee whipped her head around, so her hair was resting on her shoulders. “Play with your hair.” She said, as she fingered her blondness. “That’s such a girly thing to do.”
Lucas tried to get his pony tail around, but it eluded him. It was too short. “What else?”
“Ummm...” Kelsee said, her big round eyes, rolling up. “Oh, I know! When you wear, like, a sleeveless top, like a cami or a tank or something like that, make sure you have your bra straps showing. Guys really dig that.”
Lucas was wearing a big, baggy t-shirt, so he couldn’t try it. “And?”
“And... Okay, last one. Giggle at everything.” Kelsee grinned and let a light giggle out as she spoke. “Become, like, a total giggler. That’s like the ultimate in girly-girl.”
That, he could do. He let out a little laugh, but he tried to hard to make it sound perfect, and it sounded more like a hiccup. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Hiccups are cute too.” Kelsee said. “Just don’t try so hard, and it’ll come. Keep at it. Soon, you’ll be giggling at things that aren’t even, like, funny.”
Lucas giggled at that remark. “Oh, like that?”
“Work on it, kay?”
“A hee hee,” Lucas said. “Hee hee hee. Hee? Hee. Higgle! Hee hee hee. Hoo. Hee heeeeee he heee!”
“I mean later.” Kelsee interrupted. “Work on you giggle later. When I’m not here.”
In about fifteen minutes, neither of the two of them could remember exactly what the big deal was about Sol. Kelsee’s mere presence seemed to had magically sponged all the bad feelings from Lucas. But it was late. It was time for the both of them to go to bed.
As soon as he closed the door behind Kelsee, Lucas ran back to his room and leapt onto his bed. He felt great. He wasn’t alone at all. He was one of the Nines. He was a Fairfax High Varsity Cheerleader. Go Flyers! He was one of the girls.
Then it struck him. He was one of the girls. He had gone native. He had broken the first rule of journalism: He had become a girl.
No, that wasn’t the first rule of journalism, Lucas thought, but it was something like “don’t sympathize with your subject” or words like that. Close enough.
Now what? The story was tainted. The whole idea of doing an exposé on the Nines now seemed like a bad idea. After all, he was a Nine, so now he was trying to expose himself! Maybe he should just put that story aside for now. Since “Krystie” didn’t have newspaper in her schedule, and Lucas hadn’t been to school in a couple months, that was probably appropriate.
What was he saying? Give up on the story? How could he even think that. He pounded himself on the head for even considering it. Kelsee was right. Everyone pretends. He had been faking himself into being real. That was the key. If he wanted to really break this story, he’d have to go even deeper. So deep, even he wouldn’t know he was undercover.
The next morning, Lucas chose his clothes carefully. He picked out a nice skirt, a tank top so he could show his straps, and white leather flats. He used Kelsee’s dynamite lip gloss, and mascara. He put his hair into a perky pony-tail and wished he had long enough hair so he could play with it, like Kelsee said. Maybe he could see a stylist about it or something. Then, he giggled once or twice in the mirror for practice, and headed for school. In his mind, he just repeated the same thing over and over again: “forget you’re undercover. Forget you’re undercover. Forget you’re undercover...”
He hadn’t gotten far before he was stopped in the living room. “You’re going to school dressed like that?” Ginger exclaimed.
“There’s nothing wrong with the way I’m dressed! All my friends dress like this!” Lucas replied. They did. Exactly like this. He had worked very hard to emulate them perfectly.
Ginger shook her head in disappointment. “There is no way you are leaving the house in those clothes.” She said, approaching Lucas. “Shug, what’re the boys supposed to do, use their imaginations? You’ve got to get out of the nunnery and into the twenty-first century. Show some skin, for goodness sake, girl!”
“Bu... Wha?” Lucas fumbled out.
“You go back to your room, and I don’t want to see you in a skirt longer than your fingertips!” She pointed the way back to his room. “Darken those lashes, too! We can always buy more mascara and eye liner!”
If the boy was going to be a girl, then Ginger had decided she was going to make sure he had the full ride. She was going to have his look practically scream “girl.” That’s what he wanted, after all. “Go! And if you don’t have any high heels, I’ll let you borrow mine!” She said, and Lucas slumped off to his room.
Later that morning, Cricket let out a wolf whistle. “Our girl’s lookin sex-aaay!” She said.
An embarrassed Lucas approached his friends looking distinctly uncomfortable. Although the hallway they were in was practically deserted, Lucas felt like every eye in the world was staring at him. He had a denim skirt with big pleats that didn’t even get halfway down his thighs. He wore a pair of pink knee-high boots with a tall heel, but leaving the edge of his white socks visible. His white crop-top had been tied in a knot behind his back to make it skin-tight, and a loose pink cardigan was resting off his shoulders. “Hey guys,” he said, his sparkling wet lips said, trying to form a smile.
“You look awesome!” Amber said, putting every ounce of energy into her statement.
“Ohmigod! How did your aunt Ginger let you out of the house like that?” Kelsee asked. “My parents would go so totally, like, nuts.”
Lucas sighed. This was Ginger’s idea, after all. “Yeah, I guess Ginger is a little different.” He tied to get his sweater back onto his shoulders, but it fell right off again. “Does anyone have a coat I can borrow? I feel naked.”
“And waste your fine look?” Katelynn objected. “No way. Uh-uh.”
“Don’t even think of it!” Cricket said. “If I had boobs like yours, I’d show them off every day!”
“My what?” Lucas was reluctant to look down at his chest. He had been well aware of the problems he had been having down there, and he had been trying to ignore it. He closed his eyes when he showered, and he looked at the ceiling when he was putting his bra on in the morning. Lucas didn’t touch it, he didn’t want to see it, and he certainly didn’t want to think about it.
“These, genius!” Amber said, grabbing Lucas’s breasts with her hands.
“Woo hoo!” A boy yelled from the other end of the empty hall.
“Mind your own business!” Katelynn yelled back, as she blocked the view.
As Amber continued to knead, Lucas slapped her hands away. “Stop it!” He screeched.
“I don’t think she’s padding, either!” Amber said, astonished.
“Oh, she’s got to be padding,” Cricket said, grabbing the breasts for herself.
“Let me see!” Heather said, grabbing some flesh for examination.
“What does it feel like?” Cherry asked, trying to get her hands in as well.
“It feels real!” Petra opined.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Lucas wailed, his voice breaking into a scream by the time he finished. He put his arms across his chest defensively and turned away. “They’re little gel things. Ginger made me wear them.”
“Those are awesome!” Amber gushed. “Let me borrow them for next class!”
Lucas was aghast. “You are not borrowing my breasts!”
“Then you gotta tell me where your aunt gets them. Those are the best I’ve ever seen!”
“Oh my God, she’s so cool,” Kelsee said, “for an aunt.”
“I guess,” Lucas said, annoyed that the discussion had been all about him so far. One of the things he liked best about being a Nine was that he could just blend in with the guys, just shut out the world and turn his mind off. He liked turning his mind off. “So, um, can we talk about something else?”
“Like, about you and your boyfriend breaking up?” Kelsee asked.
“Krystie has a boyfriend?” Three or four girls said simultaneously.
“No!” Lucas objected. “I don’t have a boyfriend! Talk about something else!”
A full minute of silence passed. Amber looked at her feet, Cricket ran her tongue along her teeth, Petra bit her lip, Katelynn chewed her gum...
“Allright!” Lucas yelled in exasperation. “We broke up last night!”
“You gotta tell us everything!” Cricket demanded.
Amber agreed. “Dish!”
Lucas slumped his shoulders, hung his head and sighed. “Fine,” he said. He gathered up his energy, into a bundle and let it out. “Okay, so, here’s what happened.”
All eyes turned to Lucas.
“Sol and I practically grew up together...”
Later that night, as Lucas was doing his eyes at his new vanity, he blushed. Oh, the things he had told his friends about Sol. About a minute into his story, he was boring himself and started to... Well, he was embellishing his tale of woe a little bit. He had made Sol from a nerdish computer buff into a two-letter athlete. He had turned the years of growing up together as pals into a long-unspoken and unfulfilled romance. Lucas made Sol into an Adonis with a gregarious personality who flashed a warm smile and unreserved passion.
There wasn’t anything wrong with embellishing the truth a little, was there?
Although when Lucas broke down in tears again, as he told his ale, he may have been milking it a little. The truth was that the girls just felt so bad for him, losing the love of his life, that Lucas just kept feeding into their expectations. By the time he was done with his story, Romeo and Juliet were shallow afternoon flirts compared to the heart-rending epic of Krystie and Sol.
Lucas just hoped he wouldn’t have to prove any of it.
As he tweezed his eyebrows into thinner arches, he was reasonably sure that telling stories wasn’t going to get him into trouble. He adjusted his strapless bra so his breasts settled better. Stories were just stories. No one cared if they were true or not.
Standing, he walked over to the hangar which held that dress he had bought at the mall. Tonight was the night. He was going to Courtney’s party, and it was only about ten minutes before his ride showed up.
He tied the straps of the heels around his ankles, hoping that his toe polish would dry fast enough. He was nervous, almost skittish as he thought about the night ahead. Although Courtney was definitely a little assertive and maybe a little irritating at times, the girls had made her out to be some sort of monster. Sure, Courtney had been consistently nasty to Lucas, but then again, she had invited him tot he party. So how bad could she be?
Besides, Courtney was one gorgeous looking girl. Lucas had always lusted after her aristocratic beauty and centerfold breasts. With a body like hers, she deserved the benefit of the doubt. Of course, as much as Lucas had dreamt of getting his hands on those pluckable fruits of hers, he had also grown to appreciate her lustrous, shiny hair. He figured it must take her at least two hours every morning to get her hair like that. Maybe, if he had no shot at Courtney, he could at least get the name of her hairdresser tonight.
“You goin’ out tonight darlin?” Ginger said, walking through the half-open door of Lucas’ room.
Lucas continued to study himself in the mirror, checking the dress from all angles. “A party. A Courtney Chase party.”
“Mmmm, sound like a real to-do,” Ginger replied, joining the examination of Lucas in the mirror. “This what you’re wearing?”
“Yes,” Lucas said, wary of her opinion. “You’re going to tell me that it’s not showing enough skin, aren’t you?”
“Well, I’d hate to deprive all those boys of those knockout legs of yours, but...” Ginger paused to give Lucas a second look. “This ‘innocent’ look does work for you, doesn’t it, sweetie? I do think you’re going to break a whole lotta hearts tonight.”
“Up or down?” Lucas said, playing with his hair.
“Down, but tied in back” Ginger said automatically. “Those bows on the straps will draw enough attention without your hair getting in the way, but you need to have it tied up in back. Use a matching red ribbon to tie it.”
“Ooo!” Lucas said, picturing it. “Do you have one? I’m kinda light on... Accessories.”
“I suppose you are,” Ginger said, suddenly reminded that the girl in front of her was not a girl. She left for a minute to fetch the ribbon, and returned. “Let me do it for you.” She said, positioning herself behind Lucas.
Lucas lifted his hair, using both hands to gather it up, careful to not let any stray strands escape. Ginger noted that it was a uniquely effeminate practice. “Okay?” Lucas asked.
“Just fine.” Ginger then went about tying the ribbon, careful to match the style of the bow with the bows on Lucas’s dress. “Shug? Do you mind if I ask you a question?” She said.
“I’m already wearing the inserts like you told me,” Lucas whined, pushing his chest up to show.
“No, no. Not that. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“My breasts are petty personal.”
Ginger threw her hands in the air in frustration. “A different personal question!”
“I guess not,” Lucas said, immediately wary of any questioning that began like that.
“Why are you a boy in girls’ clothing?” She said, directly.
Lucas didn’t really react all that strongly to the remark. He had assumed that there was a really good chance that Ginger had been informed by his Uncle about the whole situation. In fact, he had been meaning to ask Ginger what she knew – so this was a slight relief to know he wasn’t going to have to have a clumsy and awkward conversation with her.
“What did Uncle Curtis say?” Lucas asked.
“Not much,” Ginger replied. “He’s not exactly clear on a lot of things.”
“Yeah. He can be a bit secretive at times,” Lucas said.
Ginger showed a bitter smile. “You have no idea.”
“Well, this is all sort of an undercover thing. I’m doing a story for the school paper on how the cheerleaders are...”
“So you’re trying to be a cheerleader?”
“Yeah, that’s kind of the whole point. See, I noticed that a lot of unpopular girls always seemed to be ex-cheerleaders and all the popular ones were staying on the squad, so...”
“Oh, I see.” Ginger said, interrupting for a second time. “Sort of trying to see what it takes to be a popular girl.”
“Yeah... I guess.” That was one way off looking at it, Lucas thought.
“But this seems to be going a little far for a simple newspaper story, isn’t it?”
“Oh, this could be so big, though!” Lucas said, his enthusiasm obvious. “This could be one of the biggest stories ever!”
“So how much of this story have you written down sweetie?”
“Um...” Lucas fiddled with the hem oh his skirt. “I’m not that... Strong... A writer.”
“I see,” Ginger said, nodding. The next question she thought to ask was “Do you like being a girl?” But she didn’t bother. That was quite apparent to her already. Instead, she came up with something else. “So how long until you’ve finished the story?”
Lucas thought for a moment. Then he took another moment. Thinking hard, he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to reveal the cheerleaders as vampires or whatever they were. Plus, since he, too, was probably a cheerleader vampire now, he was going to have to find some sort of vampire antidote before he was truly done with the story. “I dunno. It might be a while.”
“Oh, yes. I see. Yes.” Ginger had all she needed to know at that point. “I think I need to show you some little tricks when it comes to makeup, sweetie. You know, real girl-to-girl stuff”
“Cool!” Lucas said, eagerly.
Lucas had his neck craned up at a ninety degree angle, his mouth agape and his eyes bulging. The ceilings were a hundred feet high and the place was lit by a million lights. Lucas’ estimates may have been a bit high, but it truly impressive. He had never seen a house like this one. His Uncle Curtis had a big house, but this place was incredible. He had been expecting a darkly-lit room with a few people dancing. Instead, this was like one of those ultra-parties they threw on 90210. Cars pulled up outside, the people were escorted up into the house by a valet, and announced to the party-goers. A giant ballroom held what must have been a hundred people, with entertainment going on all over. Lucas heard a band playing live somewhere, but couldn’t make out where they were, with so much going on. They were fed by waiters in black tie who offered sliver trays of horsd'ovuers and glasses of non-alcoholic cocktails.
“Ohmigaaaaaaawd,” Lucas said, as he continued to stare at everything like a country hick at a world’s fair. “It’s sooooo big...”
The rest of the squad, experienced at attending these ostentatious parties that Courtney threw, had already broken off from Lucas and started to chase the waiters for food. They had long ago grown unimpressed by the show of wealth and power that these parties were designed for. All Courtney wanted to do was to remind everyone who the wealthiest person in school was, and she liked to remind everyone every few months or so.
Of course, Lucas was completely impressed by this display, unable to really understand that this whole event was just a slap in the face of all the “common” people invited to taste the world of wealth and privilege before being kicked out by ten tonight. It would result in a lifetime of memories of how bad their real lives were for each and every person who attended.
Lucas probably wasn’t even aware that the other girls had left him, as he drifted through the huge ballroom, his eyes transfixed on the high ceilings and chandeliers made up of thousands of lights and crystals. “It’s so huuuuuuge!” He said.
“Someone talking about me?” Danny Driscoll said, sidling up to Lucas.
“Huh?” Lucas said, completely missing the innuendo. “Oh, Hi, Danny. Where’s Courtney?”
“I dunno.” He adjusted the collar on his white dress shirt, clearly uncomfortable with dressing up. He also wore a pair of crisp khakis and black loafers, the bare minimum dressing effort to not embarrass his girlfriend. Still, he looked very handsome, and flashed a white, toothy smile. “So, you came to the party?”
“Uh, sure!” Lucas said, smiling. “I’d always heard about these parties, and I just had to...” Lucas looked over Danny’s shoulder. “Is that an elephant!?”
Indeed, there was a baby elephant, accompanied by a trainer, doing various tricks over at the distant side of the room. There were various ‘acts’ circus-themed performing around the huge ballroom, but the elephant was definitely the center of attention. Danny wrapped his arm around Danny’s waist and turned him in another direction. “Have you seen the balcony, though? Great views from the cliffs down on the city. Kinda romantic.”
Lucas, even as he was being steered away, twisted his head around to try and look back at the elephant. “But the elephant...”
“Oh, you’re not that fat, Krystie,” said Courtney Chase. Snapping his head around forward, Lucas found Courtney standing directly in front of him and Danny. “Certainly not an elephant, at least. I see Danny has found you. How nice of him. He can be so friendly.”
Courtney glanced at Danny’s arm, still snaked around Lucas’ waist. As soon as she did, Danny recoiled it. Courtney then held out her hand much like a mother would do to beckon a stubborn five year old. Danny took it and repositioned himself at Courtney’s side.
Courtney wrapped her arms around Danny like tentacles. “I’m not letting you get away from me again, Danny,” she said, saying something that sounded like a joke, but wasn’t funny in the slightest. She turned back to Lucas. “I suppose I should have a sign made up so people can tell which one is the elephant... And which one is performing tricks.”
“You have two elephants!?” Lucas said, excitedly.
“Well, I have so many people to welcome to the party. I must see to them. But don’t you leave, Krystie. I have such an eventful evening planned.” She started to walk away, clutching Danny’s hand in a death grip. She smiled over her shoulder at Lucas. “I have little gifts for everyone tonight. Yours is very special,” she added.
Courtney’s elegant and pronounced sway of her hips was meant to indicate to Lucas that she was superior in every possible way. All Lucas was thinking of was that he wanted to try doing that kind of walk himself. He resolved to practice later, when he got home. For now, he just headed back to look at the elephant.
Lucas practically sprinted through the crowd to get at look. He liked seeing animals do silly things on TV, and hadn’t ever seen a live elephant before. Traveling as fast as his heels and skirt would let him, he arrived at the little pen they had constructed for the show, eager and excited to be entertained. Sure enough, the rest of the squad was already there.
“I can’t believe it! It’s an elephant!” Said Cricket, despite the fact she had been watching it for over five minutes already.
“I know!” Petra agreed.
“He’s soooo cute!” Lucas observed.
“Hey, Krystie! Where’d you go?” Katelynn asked. “You wandered away.”
Lucas stole a piece of food from a passing waiter’s tray. “Nowhere. Can you believe this place?”
“Yeah. Seen it.”
“Oh look!” Amber said, pointing at the fez strapped on the elephant’s head. “He’s got a little hat!”
“He’s got a little stool to stand on! So cute!” Cherry said.
Heather pointed. “Oh, and he’s making a little poo-poo! Adorable!”
“Little?” A man dressed in stained coveralls said, derisively. He held a shovel and scooped the ‘poo-poo’ up. “I’ve been doing this all day. Damn thing must crap his weight every ten minutes.” He walked over to a balcony and dumped the dung over the railing, where it fell into the inky blackness of night, down the cliffs the house was built on.
“Little baby made a doo-doo!” Heather continued, ignoring the vulgar realities.
“Awwww!” the girls said together.
The evening went on, a well-choreographed spectacle of entertainment, party games, chatting and even some dancing to the music. It was all very pleasant, although not terribly interesting. The tightly managed event wore a bit on the crowd, but few decided to leave. At around 9:30, Lucas found himself getting a little sleepy, and decided to go and find a seat.
“I just need to sit down for a few minutes,” he said to the girls. “Don’t you guys leave without me!”
“We won’t!” Heather replied.
“Quick, let’s ditch her!” the other Heather said. “Just kidding!”
“Seriously!” Lucas emphasized. “Don’t go anywhere!” He then walked off in search of a chair. Despite the large ballroom, chairs were in short supply. It was probably because the organizers didn’t want people to get to comfortable, so they’d stay on their feet and move around.
Lucas went from one side of the ballroom to the other, criss-crossing it three times. The chairs he did see were already occupied by exhausted party-goers, and they looked very much like they never intended to budge. Finally, in a last-ditch effort, he wandered back to that elephant pen with a vague hope that there might be a chair or something in the area. Maybe that little stool he saw earlier.
To his disappointment, the baby elephant was gone, along with the stool, the hat and everything else but a matted mess of hay. Lucas sighed. He decided that enough was enough and tried to spot the gang, wherever they were.
“Oh, Krystie...” A voice said. Lucas was startled, thinking he was alone in the area. But he recognized the voice immediately.
“Courtney?” He said.
Courtney walked into view, as if she appeared from nowhere. “I do hope you’ve enjoyed yourself tonight. I so enjoy sharing my good fortune with you wonderful people.”
Lucas was beginning to wonder if Courtney was aware that she sometimes came off as condescending. “It’s been great,” Lucas replied with a smile. “I looove those pink poofy crispy things.”
“The shrimp puffs? Yes, those are always popular amongst the fishstick and fries crowd,” she patted Lucas on the shoulder. Looking around, she seemed to have something else on her mind. Her attention appeared to be with the crowd that was hanging around nearby. “Krystie, why don’t you come with me out to the balcony? I wanted to give you that special gift I promised earlier.”
“Okay,” Lucas replied. “Is there anywhere to sit out there?”
“Such a lovely night. You can look over the entire town from here.” Courtney said, looking into the night. She took a deep breath. “The stench is particularly strong tonight.”
“What?” Lucas said, distracted by a visual search for something to lean on.
“Never mind.” Courtney looked back into the ballroom at the crowd again, and moved to the side of the balcony where people were closest. “Come over here. I want to show you something.”
Lucas took a few steps in her direction. “Uh, okay.”
Lucas took another step.
Lucas was now way too close for his own comfort. He had to think of something to say to distract from his awkwardness. “I like your hair,” is what he came up with.
“Wonderful.” Courtney looked back to the crowd. “Take your hands off of me!” She shouted at the top of her lungs. She then ripped the top of her dress, cutting a deep tear in the light fabric. “What are you doing! Stop! Stop!” She yelled.
Lucas looked around to try and figure out what was going on. He looked at Courtney, who had quickly adopted an expression of fear and horror.
“What are you trying to do?” Courtney continued to shout. “Someone please help me! Help! Help!” She then saw that the crowd of people she had been paying attention to had started to investigate. Satisfied, she lowered her voice to talk to Lucas. “Just wait until you see what this does to your reputation, missy. No one will ever want to be seen with some sex-crazed lesbian.”
Lucas tilted his head. “I don’t get it.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Courtney replied. “Help! Help!” She shouted again. She then sat upon the railing of the balcony, as if she had been trying to escape the insistent attack of ‘Krystie the Mad Lesbian.’
Frustrated that the crowd hadn’t yet arrived to save her and complete her little trap, Courtney yelled louder. “Help! Please, won’t someone save me!” There still wasn’t an immediate reaction. She took both hands and cupped them around her mouth to amplify her voice. “Help!”
Unfortunately, those same two hands were being used to balance herself on the railing of the balcony, and as she released them, she became unstable. In a balance sense. She was already clearly unstable in a mental sense. “Hellp! Helll... Eeek!”
With that last holler, she tumbled over backwards off the railing, sending her and her billowy gown over, bottom-side up.
“Courtney!” Lucas yelled, reacting. He quickly jumped into action, grabbing for her arms, to keep her from falling. Her managed to just get ahold on one of her hands, and kept her from going all the way down. It was a long, long way down.
“What’s going on?” said a voice from one of the partygoers, just arriving.
“I heard someone screaming!” Another said.
“Help me! Courtney’s fallen over the side!” Lucas said with urgency.
“Haallllp!” Courtney cried, now more authentically than ever. Three or four of the boys lunged forward and grabbed for whatever they could. The fluttering, diaphanous material of Courtney’s gown is what they had grasped, and it started to tear almost immediately. Quickly, the dress gave way, and once again, all that kept Courtney from falling to the cliffs below was the hold Lucas had of her hand.
“Pull me up, you idiot!” Courtney yelled.
“You need to hold on tighter!” Lucas replied.
“You need to do what I say!” Courtney countered. She then started to lose her grip. “I’m going to fall!”
In one big move, Lucas tried to sweep up his arm, and pull Courtney up. But instead, she lost her grip, and was thrown a few feet to the side, as she plunged into the darkness of the unlit cliffs. “Courtney!” Lucas yelled.
There was no reply. Not even a scream.
A few seconds later, a loud sound came from the ground far below. It sounded like “splorch!”
It was three in the morning when the doctors finally came out of the operating room and talked to Courtney’s parents. From where Lucas was seated, flanked by the rest of the Nines, it looked like somber news. It was too far away to hear what was being said, but Lucas could see that Courtney’s father had his arm wrapped around his wife, as she clutched to his side.
There was a lot of nodding, a few questions and some more nodding. That was followed by yet more nodding. Finally, the conversation ended with the husband shaking hands with the doctor. The wife clapped her hands together in prayer. It looked like there was at least a little bit of good news.
“Who was the girl who was out on the balcony with my daughter?” Courtney’s father called out, approaching those who had gathered in the hospital hallway. “Who?”
Lucas steadied himself. He raised his hand meekly.
“There you are!” The man said loudly. He approached with determination, came right up to Lucas, and hugged him. “You saved my little girl’s life.”
“Wuh-huh?” Was Lucas’ thoughtful reply.
“People have been telling me all night that you were the one who risked everything to keep her from falling. I have no idea how she got out there in the first place...”
“She was acting kinda crazy,” Lucas tried to explain. “She got all excited, and...”
The father sighed. “Yes... Yes, she does that.”
“She can get so dramatic at times,” the wife said, from behind her husband.
The father continued. “Whatever the case, if it wasn’t for your quick thinking, my little Courtney wouldn’t be alive tonight. I don’t know how you did what you did, but by throwing her into that pile of elephant dung at the bottom of the cliff, and breaking her fall, you kept her from a certain death.”
Sure enough, the accumulated waste product of that baby elephant that had been dumped over the side of that very same balcony had created a little bit of a cushioned fall. Not much of one, because as Courtney’s father went on to explain to Lucas, Courtney had broken both legs and an arm, cracked her shoulder, ruptured her spleen, punctured a lung and had some other internal organ damage. Still, she was alive, and expected to make a full physical recovery.
“Though the psychological damage may take longer to heal,” Courtney’s father added. “So much... So much dung.”
“You saved my baby!” the mother said, getting back on point. She burst forth to smother Lucas in hugs and kisses. “Consider yourself a part of the family, Katherine.”
“Krystie,” Lucas corrected.
As the woman continued to hug the stuffing out of Lucas, the father continued to talk. “Courtney has a lot of recovery to do, she’ll probably be in the hospital for a few more months. But at least she’s alive, thank God. She’s the most precious thing on Earth to me and her mother. I owe you a debt beyond what I can pay. Anything you ask is yours.”
“I was just trying to keep her from falling.” Lucas replied, adding a muffled “Hrrk,” from the tight death grip Courtney’s mother had on him. “Anyone would have done that.”
“Are you sure I can’t do something for you?” The father asked, stroking his silver mustache.
Practically leaping from her seat and vaulting almost over Lucas’ shoulder, Kelsee had a wild look in her eyes. “Donate to the squad?” Kelsee said with desperation, “Our fundraising drive is 40% there!”
“Certainly. One million? Two?”
A mouse-like squeal of delight came from somewhere inside Kelsee.
At some point, the doctors and nurses insisted on clearing the hallway and dismissing the crowd. It became very clear that although Courtney was not in critical condition, she wasn’t going to come home that night. It was going to be several dozen weeks in the hospital and several more in a rehabilitation facility, according to the doctors. Many months would likely pass before she was ready to come back home and back to school. Five of the girls huddled around Lucas as they left the hospital that early, early morning. The rest were huddled around Kelsee and fanning her forehead to try and keep her from fainting.
“Wow, like, so intense,” Cricket observed.
“Way intense,” Amber agreed.
Heather #1 nodded. “Man, that’s such a buzzkill. She’s totally busted up. Even Courtney doesn’t deserve that.”
They all continued to walk on down the way.
“No, she does,” Cherry added, after a moment of reflection. “She really, really does.”
“Yeah,” they all mumbled softly.
“So... How do we get home?” Amber asked.
The group stopped walking. They looked at each other, silently conferring on a plan.
“Time to call the units,” Petra said, taking her cell phone from her purse. They were going to have to fall back on the dreaded last resort – the units. The parental units. Like an army preparing for a frontal assault, the girls all flipped open their phones nearly in unison, and dialed home.
Once the grisly task was done. They looked for a place to rest up. They chose a short concrete wall near the illuminated hospital sign.
“So did anyone ever see the second elephant?’ Lucas asked.
“There was a second elephant!?” Cricket asked, excitedly. “Where?”
“I never saw one,” the other Heather said, confidently. “Who said there was another elephant?”
“Courtney did,” Lucas answered.
Kelsee was dismissive. “Well, I think she was just lying.”
“She was probably just trying to look more superior.” Katelynn scoffed. “Two elephants. As if.”
“Yah!” Cherry added. “Who’s able to afford to get two elephants? One, sure, but two? She was totally lying.”
“Really?” Lucas replied. “Courtney seemed to be so nice at the party. I thought she was trying to be friends.”
“That girl is pure evil,” Kelsee declared. “She’s like a wicked witch from a cartoon or something. She wants nothing more than pain and misery in everyone’s life so she feels better about her sad existence.”
Lucas looked down at his hands, resting in his slightly distressed dress. Was Courtney really evil? Sure, she was a little emotional, but evil? And if cheerleader vampires were evil... And they thought Courtney was even more evil... How super evil did that make Courtney?
“Like, I think that’s my dad,” Heather said, hopping off the wall.
The gang looked into the morning mist to see oncoming headlights.
“Mine too,” Petra said.
“Well, it’s been a fabulous evening,” Kelsee said, with a regal tone to her voice. “Do come again.”
“It was delightful affair!” Cricket replied. “The social event of the season!”
“Toodles, everyone!” Petra said, getting into her dad’s car.
“Ta-ta darling!” Cherry said, with a royal wave.
“There’s my ride!” Kelsee said, leaping to her feet. She turned to Lucas. “You gonna be okay, sweetie?”
“Sure,” Lucas replied with a sigh.
Kelsee leaned over and grasped Lucas in a big bear hug. “You just get a good night’s sleep and then turn over and sleep some more. It’ll be all good when you get up.” She kissed him on the cheek.
Lucas kissed her cheek back. “Thanks, girl,” he replied. For a bunch of evil undead vampire cheerleaders they sure were nice people, he thought to himself.
“Now, so, like, don’t let all these fancy dresses and expensive parties go to your head!” Kelsee said. “Cuz tomorrow you’re back to toiling away with the rest of us poor people, Cinderella!”
Lucas pulled his blonde bangs from his face and smiled. “Not if I find my prince charming, Kels!”
“Gimme a call!” Kelsee replied. “Don’t go changing, now!” She got in her mother’s car and it drove away.
Looking around, Lucas realized he was the only one left. His Uncle Curtis would be the last one to show up, keeping true to form.
As the morning finally insisted that Lucas get up for the day, he was becoming more and more aware that he was not alone in the room. It felt like there were eyes on him, from some unseen place. As his consciousness stared to assemble itself, Lucas was suffering from a terribly unnerving feeling that he was being watched. Observed.
“Mistress?” Came a voice.
Lucas flipped over from his back onto all fours with cat-like reflexes. There was a tall man in a suit standing in the corner of the room. With his eyes shocked open, Lucas gripped the pink sheets on his bed. He looked left and right, wondering what was coming next.
“Is mistress awake for the day?” The man asked.
“Whazisgoonwhowhatreyreyeknokarte,” Lucas quickly mumbled. It was an attempt to say, “What’s going on? Who are you? What are you doing here? I know karate,” but a cottony mind and a sleepy tongue got in the way, making the whole thing indecipherable.
Never the less, Lucas received an answer.
“I do beg mistress’ pardon. My name is Banfield. I’m Mistress Courtney Chase’s personal butler.”
“Did you come here to kill me for revenge?” Lucas asked, retreating to the far side of the bed for an impenetrable defense.
“No, mistress,” the butler replied without a hint of emotion. “The Chases do wish to extend to you their most heartfelt gratitude for saving the life of Miss Courtney. As a means of recompense, they have given you my services for the duration of her stay in medical care.”
Lucas looked at the man very carefully, looking for weapons, moving his eyes slowly up and down. He was about six two, balding and probably in his mid fifties, but very trim. Then Lucas slowly put the sheets to the side.
Like a shot, he dashed for the door, and ran through the hall all the way to the kitchen. There, he found Ginger eating breakfast.
“There’s a guy in my room!”
“Banfield! Isn’t he a hoot?” Ginger said with a hearty laugh. “I tried to get him to laugh all morning. He won’t even flinch. I tell you somethin’...”
“Why is he in my room!?”
“Thought it would be a nice surprise. You have your very own butler!” Ginger motioned to the chair next to her. “Now settle down and have breakfast.”
“Breakfast?” Lucas snapped. “Breakfast!?” He had no other words to speak at the moment, so he simply stood there with his long hair splayed about, in his oversized Minnie Mouse sleep shirt heaving as he panted, his heart racing like a bunny. “Where’d this come from?” He asked, looking at the finely garnished eggs, smoked salmon and Belgian waffles on Ginger’s plate.
“Gustav over there,” Ginger motioned to the previously ignored chef leaning over the counter, chopping some vegetable of some sort. “He came with Banfield.”
“You called?” Banfield the butler then showed up, as if from nowhere.
Lucas went into a fighting stance Bruce Lee would have backed away from. “Stay away!” he yelled.
“Cool your jets, li’l missy,” Ginger said cramming another forkful of eggs into her mouth. “He’s just trying to be helpful.”
“I don’t need any help!” Lucas said, maintaining his stance. “I’m fine!”
“She’ll calm down,” Ginger explained to the butler. “Probably.”
“Why was he in my room!?” Lucas demanded to know. It wasn’t just that he was a little skittish about waking with a stranger standing nearby – it was what a stranger could have seen there.
“I explained that,” Ginger said. “And if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, don’t worry. You could fool your sainted mother. And besides, as Banfield tell it, he’s quite grateful to be here.”
“Grateful?” Lucas asked.
“There would be little use for my services with Mistress in the hospital...” Banfield said, looking slightly embarrassed.
“In other words, sugar, Banfield here wouldn’t have a job if you turned him away. So just let him do his thing, alrighty?” Ginger sliced through some fish. “Besides, I think he’d even look forward to helping you out over that spoiled little...”
“Shall I run a bath for you, Mistress?” Banfield asked, strategically interrupting Ginger.
No answer came for a while, making the whole thing awkward. “Run her a bath, Banfield.” Ginger said. “She does bathe in private though.”
“Yes! Very private!”
“Excellent, Mistress. I will have your stylist and personal attendant ready for you when you dress.” The butler then departed.
“Stylist? Personal attendant?” Lucas asked the air.
Ginger talked as she chewed on some waffle. “Brigitte and Melanie. You haven’t met them yet?”
Lucas’s left eye developed a nervous twitch. “How many people are here?”
On the way to school that morning, Lucas was having a little bit of an issue with himself. He twiddled the little “nine” that hung on his necklace as he was swimming in an internal debate.
First, there had been poor Elizabeth. Her accident had led to Lucas inheriting her popularity, sucking it dry from her like the vampire he was. Now, there was Courtney. He had now gained Courtney’s very lifestyle from her.
After the bath, he was greeted by Brigitte, a dour French woman who styled his hair and did his makeup. Melanie, dressed him in Courtney’s clothes. His closet was crammed with Courtney’s expensive dresses and shoes. Apparently, the Chases had given them to Lucas, with the explanation that their daughter would not need them in the hospital. Plus, by the time she got out, would be buying a new wardrobe anyway – as she did every season.
It was all so overwhelming.
Now Lucas found himself nestled in the leather-upholstered rear seat of Courtney’s limousine, headed for school.
Courtney’s life was now his. He had stolen it. Sucked it from Courtney’s soul. He was truly a vampire cheerleader now. He was truly one of them. One of the nines. Part of the coven.
He was now, and would forever be, the incarnation of evil.
The door opened for him, and Lucas stepped out into the morning sun, his five hundred dollar pumps hitting the pavement as the cool wind rustled his thousand dollar dress.
“Krystie?” said a voice he recognized.
Lucas removed his sunglasses to see most of the cheer squad waiting for him. The chauffeur then deposited Lucas’s textbook into his arms.
“What’s going on?” Kelsee asked, looking half amused and half bewildered.
“I’ve come to take my place amongst you,” Lucas said. “I embrace the evil in my undead heart,” he pointed his chin out proudly. “I have claimed my prey.”
Stay tuned for more...?