Shimmer #25 – Crossover (Part 5)
“Come on… where is it?”
Justin, that was to say Jason, searched the room to no avail. Even after pulling out drawers, emptying the wardrobe and upturning the bed he couldn’t find what he was looking for.
Crap, he cursed. Why then? Right when Kaira needed him most what could have been the key to her salvation had to disappear into thin air! Had their parents found it? Even if they had they probably would have thought it was a toy and left it alone, and there would have been no reason to pack it in the evacuation.
Marching into the hallway still in his Starbolt costume he considered searching the other rooms, even the ones that would have no business housing the device he was after. Gods, how desperate was he going to get? There had to be a logical explanation as to why a freaking mind-body transfixator what-cha-ma-thingy had to have disappeared!
Little did Starbolt expect that said explanation would appear and have it pointed directly at him. “Looking for this?” Tanya fumed, ready to unleash whatever hell the device had in store for them.
He turned slowly and dreaded the voice from behind. It made sense that it should happen this way – after all, why would the gods deem anything he ever did to be easy? “Hey, Tanya,” the boy winced. “I get the feeling you’re not just going to just let me have the gun, are you.”
“Not a chance.”
This he knew was going to be a delicate operation. He tried to explain further: “Tanya, I need the mind-swapping gun or Kaira will die. Please give it to me.” Way to sound like a supervillain, he chided himself, not that there was any time for niceties.
Her fury was palpable. Lifting the ray so that the sights met with her searing glare she snarled at the hero. “What the hell did you do to her?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Starbolt pleaded. “Didn’t you see the end of the world out there!? One minute we’re fighting robo-bugs and space clones and the next…!” She wouldn’t believe him – not after he’d thrown away Kaira’s life once already, but this was different. Somehow he had to show her. “I’m trying to save her.”
It wasn’t surprising to see his words fail to stir the girl. She was Kaira’s best friend, after all – to hear that she was still suffering pushed her to the very edge. That and taking into account all of the hero versus villain, good against evil, end of the world apocalypse type stuff, it was a lot to take in. Sometimes Starbolt forgot how little the problems of mere mortals could be, and how the world of superheroes could be so terrifying.
“You know I’ve been looking out for her my entire life,” Tanya muttered darkly. “I’ve bled for her, been in loads of trouble for her, and screamed my @#$%ing lungs out for her. I’ve been there for every bully, every bigot telling her she’s going to hell, and right up to you who actually sent her there!”
Starbolt looked away in shame. “I’m sorry,” he said. His response was cold, automatic – being threatened at gunpoint he couldn’t summon the kind of remorse she wanted from him, and that it seemed was going to be a huge problem.
“#$%@ you! #$%@ you! #$%@ you!”
She had every right to be angry, of course, but it wasn’t helping the situation any. Starbolt had only one worry on his mind, and that was to save the bleeding Kaira. “Tanya, I need you to give me the gun,” he repeated slowly. “Without the gun we can’t save Kaira. Please. We haven’t got much time.”
Somewhere in that split second between hissing and pulling the trigger Starbolt knew she wasn’t going to listen. Before the energy eruption had even begun he was already in motion, dashing at sub-light speeds to one side of the room and back again, returning with a grab and a sharp elbow to the girl’s face.
Tanya collapsed to the ground, her glasses shattered and blood pouring from her nose. Starbolt had the gun. He’d been in this situation a thousand times before – really, she should have known better.
Lifting herself from the ground the girl sputtered in a daze. He’d only given her what he’d call a ‘tap’, but even that was probably more than what most could handle. She winced as she looked up and practically spat when she told him “I’ll never forgive you…”
Starbolt turned and aimed himself at the window, ready to shoot off into the sky. “That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll never forgive myself either.”
The all-too-human girl stumbled. Even without any powers she was still a fighter. Starbolt couldn’t help but think how lucky Kaira was to have a friend like her – gods knew he was when he had Tommy to watch his back.
“Where’re you going?” she coughed helplessly.
He could have left her there without an answer – it probably didn’t matter one way or the other if he said anything but all the same he wanted to explain. “I know what kind of bastard you think I am, and you’re probably right. What I did to Kaira was the king of all dick moves. But… things changed. The Technocracy came after us and we won. It was a battle I fought for years and now it’s over… and I owe her for that.”
“What’re you gonna do?”
Starbolt shrugged and blasted from the room with tremendous force. Actions, he supposed, were louder than words. Maybe if he played his cards right he could still redeem himself – at the very least Kaira Cade would get to keep her life, and even better, the life she deserved.
* * * *
The last thing I remember was being weightless in freefall. Where’s the tunnel? That was the all-consuming thought going through my… well, I didn’t have a head anymore, I supposed – but there were lights everywhere. They weren’t white lights, either, which was the weird thing. Instead they were all translucent splotches of color like what you see when you close your eyes too hard.
Was this death? If it was then it was nothing like the stories. Really it was more of a mood than a place, somewhere between annoyance, apathy and acceptance. A mild ennui, perhaps? A listless Sunday afternoon?
Suddenly there was a tug. It was a shock, as if it were the first time I’d ever encountered something with substance. Whatever was pulling at me didn’t have a face, but while I was still deciding whether or not I should have tried to resist I heard a voice. It spoke as if directly into my mind’s eye.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and I knew.
Next I was laid back with eyes wide open staring at the rough texture of the off-white ceiling. I was in the hospital again, reeling in pain. How had I gotten there? I tried to prop myself upright, but it was a battle. And then…
“Justin! Oh Lord, I’m so glad you’re okay.” There was no escaping my Mom’s grip as she pulled me into her shoulder, not that I would have wanted to. Wait, why did she recognize me? Not unless…
I looked to my fingers and that was exactly what I saw – my fingers! Not the thin little digits that Jason had left me with after the body-swap but those I was born with. My soul had been reunited with my original flesh, and though we mightn’t have been on the best of terms it was comfortable and familiar – in other words it just felt right.
Through the heady mix of confusion and relief I almost forgot to spare a thought for my body-double. Where was Jason in all of this? What had happened that things should suddenly go back to normal? Then again those questions could wait – I was too much enjoying being with my Mom.
She pulled away to get the doctor, but I stopped her. Last thing I needed was to be poked at, especially after dimension-hopping for as long as I had. “Can we stay and talk for a bit? Then I’ll let the doctors probe me and not complain. Promise.”
A look of fear fell across her face. Recently we’d done more fighting than talking – my guess was that she didn’t want to start again the second we had our happy reunion. Still, she agreed.
“What do you want to talk about?” she offered, forcing a smile. As if she didn’t know.
“About everything,” I shrugged. “I know I’ve been grabbing a lot of attention lately, and I’m not sorry about expressing myself, but… I’m still sorry that you guys got hurt.”
As if right on cue my body started shaking – the weeks that had past were finally catching up. It turns out getting lost on countless parallel Earths, leaving your family and life behind and even being stranded in a body that doesn’t rightly belong to you takes its toll. Every day I struggled not to think about home and about the people I’d abandoned, just because I thought they’d be better off without me. Now that I was back where I was started I didn’t have to be strong anymore, and the dam walls collapsed.
Mom swooped in dutifully and wrapped her arms around me, but I was still a million miles away. She asked me what was wrong and I answered breathlessly, “I wish you could just love me for who I am.”
Of course she was confused. “What are you talking about, Justin? I do love you, now and always.”
And like clockwork I recoiled. She was hurt. Great. Last thing I wanted to do was to cause any more drama and that’s what I’d done by opening my big, stupid mouth. I curled up even tighter, wishing that somehow I could disappear, wishing that there weren’t at least three other patients in the ward staring directly at us. If not for them, my Mom and my stupid secret identity I might have flown out of there all the way to the ends of the Earth – maybe even the moon.
“Justin,” she whispered, this time climbing up onto the bed with me, “I will always love you. Gay, straight… transexual…” Figured that she had to choke on that one. “I’ll always be here for you, no matter what. I just honestly think this is a phase, that’s all. I think that by chasing this that you’re making a mistake.”
“Then let me make my mistake,” came my plea. “I’m not asking to have surgery tomorrow, or to do anything dramatic or irreversible. I just want to be honest with myself and for you to be happy for me while I work it all out. That’s all.”
She looked away solemnly in thought. Back and forth, back and forth, she was just as tired of this discussion as I was. Somewhere something had to give, and it did. “If you do this,” she said, “it’s not going to be easy.”
“You think I’ve never dealt with hard stuff before?” Of course she didn’t know the half of it. Bullies and bigotry were one thing – it was a probably good thing she didn’t know what else I got up to.
I could see in her eyes the last grain of resistance blow into the wind. “Okay,” she said. “Just promise me that if you ever need anything, or you’re ever in danger…”
“You’ll be my first port of call.” After either Tanya or TASK, of course.
Confusion lingered between us. Was this it? It didn’t feel like a victory, but it wasn’t a loss either. It was progress, and that was worth the awkward hug, right? I tried to tell her that everything was going to be okay, but it was obvious that she couldn’t bring herself to believe that. Maybe it was because I was just a kid and hadn’t seen the world like she had, or maybe it was just her job as a mom to worry, I don’t know. At least I could be honest without feeling guilty anymore.
“Excuse me,” followed a voice. Prying myself away I was in no way surprised to see the handsome, tan, blond haired doctor standing at the doorway. “Hello, Justin. It’s good to see you awake.”
Mom collected herself and hurried to her feet. “Sorry I didn’t call you right away, Dr. Finch. I just got caught up…”
“Quite alright,” Artemis smiled and turned his attention back to me, “but I was wondering if I could run some follow up tests and have a private word with your son here.”
“I’ll be fine,” I told my Mom. Besides, it wasn’t like I hadn’t had these sorts of encounters with ‘Dr. Finch’ before. Reluctantly she released me from her watch and allowed the orderlies to wheel me out. It was time for my de-briefing with TASK and not a moment too soon – I had a whole lot of questions that needed answering.
“So,” I asked the cloaked spy, “what did I miss?”
* * * *
The Chamber – abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
In Laser Lass’ world it was an impenetrable fortress and the base of operations for the mercenary terrorist organization, FANG. In this reality, however, it was a TASK operated prison facility for superhumans positioned in the crushing depths below the Arctic Ocean. Those who went in did not come out.
Glimmer Girl’s counterpart sat in the concrete corner of her cell to stew. There wasn’t much else to do – the nanomachine injection administered by staff had left her neutered of her powers, just like every other poor son of a bitch in the block. What’s more the girl found herself placed among the men, not that she personally minded all that much – maybe she could have some fun, assuming they didn’t get too rowdy with her.
TASK’s resident interrogator, a deceptively pleasant man working under the guise of ‘psychiatrist’, sat on a steel chair between two guards and leaned forward. It had been the same story for the past week in which he’d had one-way conversations with her, gently probing for details about her home.
Of course Laser Lass thought him an idiot – had they really wanted something from her they’d have been better off applying torture. Then again the rules in this world were different – even in a secret prison TASK wouldn’t attempt using ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on a minor. That a people could be so weak was laughable to her.
“So, what’s an average day like for you, Kaira?” he asked for what was probably the hundredth time. The answers he received usually weren’t very informative.
“Well, first I wake up and eat a hearty bowl of go #$%@ yourself,” she grinned, “then I punch guys like you so hard that they can taste their own scrote.”
Many of her answers were less charming still.
Meal time came and went seemingly at random, as did the lights. It was always the same old slop and a paper cup of water. Day and night quickly became a distant fantasy, as did the concept of days themselves. Sometimes she would even catch the room shrinking. Next to the guards talking about metric tons of water sitting above them coupled with mind-boggling numbers the girl’s claustrophobia began to sneak up on her. Stupid mind games – she wouldn’t let them break her.
“Your friends aren’t coming for you,” the psychiatrist remarked. “Mark Trent and Brent Cassidy, also known as the Vanquisher and King Claw. They were with you, right?”
“$%@# you,” the girl spat.
“Interestingly enough they told me the exact same thing.” He frowned at her, tired of these one way talks – not as tired as she was, though. “They were taken into custody mere hours ago, but they won’t be coming here, at least for a while. The director has approved the surgical extraction of information in the event that you don’t answer any of my questions.”
Laser Lass giggled facetiously, lost between amusement and delirium. “You won’t do that. You’re the ‘good guys’ – this whole universe is full of @#$%in’ pussies.”
“Yes, we are the good guys, and we’ve been nice until now,” the still nameless man told her pointedly, “but don’t think we’re afraid to get our hands dirty.”
He was bluffing and the villain knew it. Did he really think he could scare her? Her eager grin challenged him to try, though the poor fool wasn’t even aware of the two bodies behind him that had yet to strike the ground.
Before the first of the guards fell the doctor was pulled back from his seat with a yank pull and thrown into the hallway. The impact had only lift him winded, which was just as the masked would-be murderer had intended.
“Took you long enough,” Laser Lass groaned, searching for the energy to bring herself back to her feet.
The Vanquisher huffed and stared down at the interrogator, imposing on him feelings of absolute terror. Don’t even think of hitting that alarm button, his eyes said, though he knew it was bound to happen the second they left.
“Claw and I made contact with the Mechanic,” the scoundrel rasped. “Dimensional gateway is open. We can go home whenever we want.”
Music to Laser Lass’ ears. “Then let’s not screw around here,” she grinned and clung on to her lover’s arm. As she strolled from the cell she paid a final thought to the doctor on the ground and wondered why he was still breathing. By fortune the villainess discovered one.
“I want you to pass a message on for me,” she said. “Tell Starbolt and what’s-her-face… Glitterbug or whatever – it’s not over. I’ll be back to stomp a hole in both of them.” It seemed only fair to her – after all, Jason was the one that tried to screw her first.
With a gentle tug the Vanquisher ushered the girl away. The sooner they were out of that backwater reality the better.
* * * *
Nobody expected the invasion to have hit Milestone City as hard as it did. With a solid portion of the power grid being taken out a lot of homes lose the ability to store food among other things. Stores were overflowing, some ransacked – turns out a lot of people just weren’t prepared to deal with the fallout of an inter-dimensional disaster and were suddenly desperate for spam.
Lucky for most the army was on top of things, keeping the peace as well as providing food, shelter and light for those who needed it. Those who returned so soon after the evacuation were welcomed back with a renewed sense of community, or so I’d been told. I hadn’t seen it yet in the three days the hospital kept me back for observation – but when I did come back it was like being part of a days-long block party, but without the music. Despite the hardships everybody was smiling and glad to see each other, even the ones who were confused when I showed up dressed like a girl.
Inside of the next week things were back to normal. The power had returned, as had a lot of the residents – businesses were getting back on their feet and school was set to start again the following Monday. That was a mixed blessing, but at least it meant getting to see my friends again – all two of them.
It wasn’t until that Sunday that I finally got to see Tanya. I was at the mall, one arm slung over a third level railing, the other nursing a chai latte that just wasn’t as good as the kind you get at the Lovin’ Spoonful. All the while I couldn’t stop thinking how fragile it all was, this false sense that all was right in the universe. Who knew when the next set of space-bugs could come crashing into our laps? That was why I was going to keep fighting, even if Glimmer Girl seemed… I dunno, soiled, I guess.
“Hey there, Little Miss Emo-Pants,” Tanya grinned, appearing from nowhere with a push to shake me from my funk. Best of luck to her.
Still, it was good to see her again. Way better than tweeting. With a smile I turned, wrapped my arms around her and collapsed pathetically, playing dead and generally making an ass of myself. She protested mildly and plunked me down on one of the nearby chairs.
“Tell me everything,” she demanded, but I wasn’t in the mood. “You okay, chick?”
My look cut right through her. No, of course I wasn’t alright. “I nearly had it all,” I chided. “It was right there. The body I always wanted, the family I always wanted… and then I’m lied to, dragged from universe to universe, and saw the people I care about most nearly killed. It’s one thing pummeling the crap out of a super-creep on a rooftop, but @#$% gets real when it affects the people closest to you.”
I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was being selfish to talk that way. After all, my crap was so much smaller than everything that was almost lost – that was why I’d swallowed it and pushed it to one side while the city was recovering. Feelings I didn’t even know I had were swelling up, like telling Jason I’d forgiven him – I mean I had, but I guess that was still a raw point.
Tanya, my superhero, understood completely, or at least she seemed to. There was no way for her to grasp the end of the world type stuff that Glimmer Girl faced, but she saw me hurting and was there, and that was what mattered the most.
“Look on the bright side,” she offered weakly. “At least things are back to normal, yeah? I mean, sure, we all got jerked around, you especially, but in the end you didn’t really lose anything…”
“Actually,” I mumbled back, “Mom’s going to let me go to school as a girl.”
Looking to Tanya I almost laughed as she paused, not sure what to say. She lifted her sunglasses despite the black eyes behind them and blinked incredulously. “You’re kidding,” she gasped. “Are you sure it’s your real mom and not some evil parallel mom?”
“I think she figures that if I’m going to get pushed around anyway I may as well do what I want, as long as I don’t do anything permanent.”
“Is she going to call you Kaira now?”
Gods, Tanya was hilarious. That was probably the funniest thing I’d heard all week. “Not a chance!”
She punched me in the arm for mocking her excitement, just hard enough to tell me to quit being an ass but while still smiling hard enough to admit that it was probably stupid to hope so high. It was good to be back in easy company again and in the presence of someone I could tell everything to. Well, almost everything.
“Listen,” I started cautiously, “there’s something else you need to know.”
Leaning back Tanya gave me an odd look, as if there couldn’t be anything else I could possibly tell her. “You’re in love with me, aren’t you,” she stated flatly. “I knew it. It was bound to happen eventually. My milkshake doesn’t just bring boys to the yard.”
I snorted. “You wish.”
“Sometimes,” she teased, “but it’d never work out. You’d get too introspective and over-analyze @#$% and I’d talk so much it’d drive you loony.” Arching her brow playfully she leaned closer so that she might force me to chuckle – we both needed the laugh. Then it was back to business. “Seriously, though, what’s up?”
Dread filled my gut. She wasn’t going to like this. “Remember when you pulled the gun on Jason…?”
The look on her face turned deadly serious. Of course she remembered – she was still nursing a broken nose from it. “You still need to tell me the whole story about that,” Tanya said. “He said that you’d been hurt, and that he needed it to save you. So, what, he switched bodies back?”
You could see it in her eyes, the frustration and regret as they blended into a cloudy mixture. “What happened to him?” she asked, certain that the answer was going to confirm his worst fears.
Suddenly another voice erupted from behind us – a high voice that on first notice might have belonged to a young boy. “He spent three days in a coma while TASK micro-surgeons pieced together the hole in his heart,” Jason mused bluntly. “Then they took his powers away and put him in a foster home. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than life with the Technocracy.”
Tanya stood wide-eyed in shock as if she were staring at a ghost, but alas Jason was right there in front of her. Yeah, he’d changed a bit – for starters his blond hair was dyed black, and for the time being he was walking with a cane, but it was definitely him in the world of the living.
Tension filled the air. Tanya looked like she was going to explode while Jason pretended like he didn’t care, even though he did. Something was going to boil over soon.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” he said angrily. “What I did I did because I was desperate and stupid. Now that I’m settling down I promise not to be a supervillain anymore. Cool?”
“No,” Tanya growled, “not cool.”
Gods, here we go. “Kaira forgave me. Why can’t you?”
I could see the thoughts bubbling away in her brain – the byproduct of knowing each other for as long as we had. She was glad he wasn’t dead, but was too stubborn to admit it when she’d felt so slighted. Oh, how she wanted to hate him, even after he’d redeemed himself. The fact that Jason was being a real smart-ass wasn’t helping his case, either.
“Stand still,” she ordered him. Before he could even think to ask why Tanya’s hand flew out across his cheek, hard, knocking a trail of spittle over the ground. This was her revenge for the black eyes and nose and… well, everything, I guess.
“There,” Tanya smiled easily. “Now I don’t hate you anymore. I still don’t like you, but I don’t hate you.” With that said she looked back, her knowing glance inviting me to the Lovin’ Spoonful. It was just what we both needed.
Standing with Jason after she’d marched off I laid an assuring hand on his shoulder. “She’ll like you eventually,” I told him, and followed my friend’s path. If the world was going to make sense again I needed a proper latte.
* * * *
Things were getting back to normal, or at least that’s what I kept hearing – the ebb and flow of daily life continued as usual, seemingly undisturbed by the near extinction of the human race. It was something we were all glad to put behind us.
Meanwhile I found myself stuck in the same place, staring at myself in the mirror, desperate to find the girl that had vanished since my return. All I could see was Justin, and I hated him – I hated his shoulders, I hated his jaw, I hated his hands and feet, the way his voice was forced uncomfortably into a higher pitch. At face value most people mightn’t have seen a boy at all, but to me it was all that was left. My life, my curse.
Yeah, yeah, some people have real problems. Cry me a river, right? For days and nights I flew out to help with the recovery effort, mostly because that was my job as a hero, but there was a selfish part of it too – I was trying to lose myself, just like I always did when I buried myself in the Glimmer Girl persona. It was a pity that in the end I didn’t even have that to take comfort in.
I had to get away – away from Milestone City, away from myself, and there was only one destination I could think to go. High in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and far from the winding roads leading to civilization was a place – Jorge called it ‘Olympus in miniature’, but really it was more of a holiday home for teen heroes. That was what the Young Sentinels were about, after all – giving each other the support they needed, even if it was just a place to chill for a few hours.
The HQ had everything needed to cut loose. There were the showers and bedrooms, a number of which were assigned to specific Sentinels, a training facility for the times when you just really needed to blast the crap out of something – and really, it doesn’t get better than knocking around giant robots – but I wasn’t there for those. All I wanted was a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, Joan Jett cranked on the stereo (blame Tanya) and a chance to jump on the furniture barefoot. With nobody else around who was going to stop me, right?
Running high on the chocolate rush, leaping from sofa to sofa and screaming lyrics at the top of my lungs I almost managed to forget myself. It was the freedom that came with utter isolation, which really made me wonder why people didn’t do it more often. Turns out it’s because you can’t trust any place to be completely empty, even out in the wilderness.
“Nice moves,” I heard someone say. Crap! I turned to see Noble standing by the kitchen counter, his cowl pulled back so that it hung from his cape. He was wearing an amused grin. Ugh, how embarrassing.
With a gesture of my hand the automated system was silenced and I was left to simmer in my shame. Nobody had ever seen me dance like that, ever – that my awkward crush was the first left me lost for words.
“Guess I’m busted, huh.”
Noble, that is to say Mark, laughed it off. “Could be worse. For a minute I though Wild Knight had dragged another girlfriend in here.” That was when I caught it again – that boyish twinkle in his eye, the one that made it seem like he was the most trustworthy guy in the world. Of all the times to swoon…
I avoided his gaze and scooped up the empty tub. Gods, I’d really made a mess of this place, and I was still in my tights with no boots, no gloves and no mask – and my hair was a disaster! Note to self, Kaira – next time you go head-banging put a damn lock on the door.
It should have been obvious that Mark would pick up my discomfort. I mean, he was an empath. “Hey, uh… Kaira,” he coughed. Hearing him say that name was just weird, but it stopped me. I couldn’t believe he really remembered it.
As casually as I could I smiled back to him. “Yeah?” Even though I couldn’t see myself I’d bet any amount of money that I was failing at cool.
“Listen, I heard about what happened,” he started cautiously. “Not just about the invasion, but also about your dimension hopping…” Oh gods, nobody told him about the body-switch, did they? Did he know about me? Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t – either way my sudden terror stopped him in his tracks.
Noble reached out for my hand and cradled it gently. I could feel tenderness emanating from his fingertips while I struggled not to tremble. “I wanted to make sure you were okay but didn’t get a chance to before now,” he said.
Everything came flooding back. Damn it. So much for escapism. A part of me hated him for the reminder, but the rest was too tired to care. In fact his bare hands felt good against mine, and if I were being completely honest…
No. This was too weird. I was vulnerable and had to work this out alone. As much as it pained me I pulled away and forced a grin.
“I’m fine,” I lied. “I mean, yeah, it was rough being bounced around universes and getting lost for all that time, but I made it home to my family and friends. Now we can focus on everything getting back to normal.” Evasive as normal was I had to find it again eventually, right?
He half-smiled and turned away like I’d disappointed him or something. What’s more was that he seemed to be entirely expecting it. Crap. I hadn’t done something else stupid, had I?
“I know everything’s not okay,” he said. “You don’t have to talk about it. I just wanted to tell you that I’m here if you need me.” Really, I should have known better than to cross a human lie detector. His hand continued to hold mine and gave it a warm squeeze. Sometimes he was so perfect I couldn’t stand it.
My smile was for real this time, and I wanted to believe him – really I did. “Thanks,” I said, still not able to bring myself to meet his gaze – and then he drew me back in.
There was no escaping the cool, crystal blue filled with kindness. I could have fallen right then and there and known I would be completely safe, but I had to hold on – I didn’t want to hold on, but I had to! It wouldn’t be fair to succumb, not to him or to me.
Leaping between the gap Mark took away the uncertain ‘if’ and brought his lips to mine. I could have pulled away… oh, who am I kidding? No way could I have pulled away! He was just so sweet, soft and strong, absolutely irresistible, and even though he was wearing the same aftershave as my Dad for the first time ever I found the scent desirable. Gods, I could have breathed him in forever.
Even after he’d pulled away I could still feel him there, still taste him. I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes. What if this was all a dream – a silly, wonderful, amazing dream in which time had completely stopped? When I finally did open them again Mark was still there. The kiss was real, and I felt lighter than air, utterly transformed by such intimate contact that up until then I’d only ever dreamed about.
My first real kiss…
We both felt a pang of guilt upon rediscovering each other’s gaze. Did that really just happen? Had we crossed a line into the forbidden? Even if we had it didn’t seem to matter – what we’d shared felt good and given the chance I would probably do it again. Gods, did I want to do it again!
Mark smiled bashfully and took a step away. “Sorry, I have no idea where that came from.”
“You don’t have to apologize.”
The redness of his cheeks deepened with his grin. “That was, uh… that was my first time…”
No way! As if it didn’t feel special enough already! Taking a brave step forward I bit my lip and took his hands. “Mine too.”
What lingered between us was electric. We couldn’t fight it even more – why even try? Our arms flew around each other, our lips drawn together like magnets. Joined with him, alone in the mountains, just the two of us, we were were filled with the joy of life. This was what it meant to be born – to be connected, and to be free.
From the corner of my eye I discovered the mirror, and in it my reflection. Suddenly I could see her again, the girl in me, but something was different – she’d grown. Maybe things were going back to normal, but it wouldn’t be like it was before – after all, the more things stay the same the more they change.
* * * *
END OF VOLUME ONE
NEXT ISSUE: Love and apes. Need I say more? “The Curious Case of Glimmer Gorilla.” Stay tuned…