Robin sulked on the faux wood of her desk. She had gotten past the initial heavy crying phase and had moved on to a protracted whimper. It was pathetic that she felt that was progress. She sniffled, her face on her desk, too listless to get up and grab a tissue. She didn’t want to move. She wanted to blame all this crying and illogical behavior on a sudden onset of female hormones but knew that was a cop out. She was just being a miserable pile of self-pity and just wanted to wallow in her sorrow.
How long had she been crying? Ten? Fifteen minutes? It wasn’t exactly the dignified behavior of a superhero. Heroine. Superheroine. Not just any superheroine, but a cheerleader superheroine. A fudging cheerleader. She had finally achieved her childhood fantasy! She had superpowers. Yet, in a literally cruel twist of Fate, she had to wave pompoms and wear a dumb-angelcake skirt to use them.
The front door to the apartment clicked open, and Robin ceased her whimpering. She held her breath. Her bedroom door would hide her presence only if whoever entered didn’t expect Robin to be there. Was it Noriko or Vivian? Either way, she didn’t want to let anyone see her like this.
“Anyone here?” Vivian hollered. “Anyone? Ang? Hmm… maybe they… oh! Hey Kara!” Silence. Then a clap. “Oh wow. You’re out like last year’s fashions! You really drained yourself this time, girl.” Robin hoped the revelation of Kara’s near-coma would get Vivian to be quiet and stop interrupting Robin’s pity party. And Kara’s sleep.
Robin heard the fridge open up. “Well, I’ll have you know I got you healthy food for tomorrow.” So much for her shutting up. Donut but her voice carried! How could someone so small be so loud? “But I’ll have you know I bought generic brand chicken soup because I’m disappointed you don’t see the genius in taking advantage of our metabolisms and eating like pigs while we can. Or, you know, maybe because the generic stuff was 20% cheaper. It made good financial sense, but the narrative is more fun if I’m being spiteful.”
Did this girl normally talk to herself? Why did she feel the need to– three quick knocks came on Robin’s door. “Robyn? You in here?” Robin, face down on her desk, didn’t dare move a muscle. Like prey being stalked in the wild, Robin hoped that if she held perfectly still then her predator wouldn’t notice her. If that door opened, Vivian would try to suck all the misery away with her exuberance. Even if it made no sense, Robin felt like being sad.
The door opened despite Robin’s possum impersonation. “I know you’re here. Ang texted me.” Vivian’s tone was bright and cheerful, and Robin wanted none of that right now. “I brought something for you.”
So much for that plan. Robin didn’t look up while she cleared her throat. She tried to project composure, but her voice still shook like a newborn fawn. “I want to be alone right now, Vivian.” She couldn’t let Vivian see that she had been crying.
“But Robyn,” Vivian pleaded hopefully, “I brought you a present.”
Robin clenched her teeth, her face still buried against the desk. “I don’t have the patience to deal with leg shaving or tampons or whatever girly health stuff you got for me right now. Just leave me alone!”
Robin heard Vivian give a plaintive whine. Her voice morphed to a tone that was a strange mix of amused, disappointed, understanding, and consoling. “No. No. No. I didn’t tell the boys I was buying women’s health products. I told them I was buying feminine care products. See the clever difference?”
Robin didn’t budge an inch. If she said nothing, maybe Vivian would go away.
“Come on,” Vivian pleaded more fervently. “I promise this is really funny and will cheer you up. And you really need this. Trust me! I’m awesome with this stuff.”
Robin wanted to yell at Vivian to leave but couldn’t muster the energy to do so. She finally gave in; if Robin humored her, she might be rid of this accursed pixie. Robin sat up and wiped her eyes. What was the point in pretending she hadn’t been crying? Only a complete idiot wouldn’t notice? What was Robin protecting? Her pride had already been completely shattered today; what would a few more broken shards hurt?
Robin swiveled her chair around and found Vivian holding two pint-sized containers of ice cream. The left one read “Caramel Fudge Brownie Cake Blast” with the right reading “Triple Chocolate Chocolate Chip Party.” Vivian’s face blended concern and excitement in a way Robin had never thought possible. “Get it? Feminine care products?”
Robin sniffed and rubbed her eyes. She didn’t want to smile. She did anyway. It was legitimately clever. “I don’t want to justify stereotypes on my first day, Vivian. It feels sexist.”
Vivian grinned and practically danced into the room. She jumped onto Noriko’s perfectly folded sheets and perched herself on her knees. “Stereotypes? No way! We are women of science, Robyn! This is an experiment!” She weighed the two containers as if her hands were a scale. “Which one you want?”
Robin wanted to send her away but something about Vivian’s entire demeanor made her feel like she should be welcome. Was this part of her powers? Was she really just like this? Either way, Vivian clearly wanted to cheer Rob up. Even if Robin couldn’t be with her Uncle, she knew he’d prefer her to be with people who cared about her well-being rather than crying by herself. “Give me the caramel one.”
“Dang it!” Vivian teased. “I wanted that one.” She tossed Robin the pint of ice cream and a spoon. Robin easily caught the ice cream but missed the spoon. She leaned over and picked it up off the floor.
Vivian let out a low whistle. “Ang wasn’t kidding about your hair. I’ve never seen a scarlette with hair like yours. Or a body like yours. Fate isn’t pulling any punches.”
Robin tried to ignore the comment. “How are you a woman of science? I thought you were a film person?”
Vivian waved her off then opened her ice cream. “I love film, yeah, but my major is actually developmental psychology. I’m just getting a film minor.”
Robin raised an eyebrow. “How do those work together.”
“They don’t!” Vivian said cheerfully. “But I’m getting my money’s worth from my degree.” This surprised Robin. Her short time as the university had shown her she was one of the few students whose focus was their education. She really hadn’t expected Vivian would be the type to take it seriously. “Besides, psych makes perfect sense when you factor in my past life being some super emotion scientist lady. And film makes perfect sense if you consider the contrivance that is our lives. Especially your life. It’s written like a gummi donuted tragedy!”
Robin could help but smirk. “I see you miss swearing too?”
“I wouldn’t say I miss swearing, per se,” Vivian said. “I just miss having the option. Though, to be honest, I never really swore before. I do so occasionally now as a form of protest and also because it’s considerably funny. It even made you smile despite the emotional wreck you obviously are right now.” She grinned at her last line.
Robin wanted to take offense at that, but somehow she couldn’t. That callous sentence wasn’t the thing Vivian should have said. Given Robin’s recent tribulations, Vivian should have been consoling and comforting. Vivian clearly knew that. But instead she just poked at the sore spot because common decency said you shouldn’t, and in the oddest way, that was comforting to Robin. It made her feel like she was talking to the always irreverent Cory again, albeit a much more bubbly and cuter version of Cory.
Robin rolled her drying eyes. “So what’s your experiment, woman of science?”
“Oh!” Vivian bounced on the bed, further messing up Noriko’s sheets. “The way I see it, you are the ultimate case study right now for gender studies. As women of science, we have a duty to take advantage of that.”
“Think about it! Right now you are a mess of unfamiliar hormones.”
Robin sighed. “I’m not a mess of…”
“Of course you are!” Vivian insisted. “Men and women’s brains produce similar chemicals but in different quantities, and, thus, you are due to be dealing with emotions and sensations that are foreign to your life experience as a male.” Robin was surprised to hear how… scientific Vivian was sounding. Maybe she wasn’t the space case Robin had assumed. “As such, we are going to test a classic female coping mechanism and see if its results are effective due to nature or nurture.”
“The coping mechanism being eating chocolate ice cream?”
Vivian held up a finger. “Ah! Eating chocolate ice cream while complaining how sugary the world is! You really can’t discount the half of the therapy session that is biscuiting and moaning about how stupid Fate is.”
Robin smirked at that. “LIke how stupid it is that our speech is censored?”
Vivian wagged her finger at Robin. “Nuh uh uh! You have to take a bite first then start complaining! Come on! It’s like you don’t even understand how an experiment works! I thought you were a physicist.”
Robin smirked and demonstrably opened the pint of ice cream to appease Vivian. “You’re like a tiny, sugar-addled dictator. And I’m a mechanical engineering major. Not physics.”
Vivian took a big bite of her ice cream and shook her head. “Whatever. All you so-called hard science people are booooring. Oh, and the other experiment here is to find out if women really do like chocolate more than men.”
Robin picked up her spoon. She hated to admit it, but this conversation was a welcome diversion from the self-pity she had been slogging through alone. “First of all, I’m a sample size of one. Hardly a scientific data set.”
“That’s the beauty of calling it a case study!” Vivian exclaimed. “Besides, if you think about if, Fate mixed you up really good. I mean, putting aside gender and your oh-so-curvy-I’m-getting-jealous body, she made your hair redder than a busful of nuns driving past a nude colony, gave you a voice that will make boys swoon, and I’m really not used to anyone being close to eye level with me. I think it’s not too crazy to assume your taste buds might have changed along with all that.”
Robin really didn’t need another reminder about what an apparently smoking hot body she had. Cory and Eli checking her out when she first arrived had been more than enough to communicate that concept. Yet for some reason, the callous, careless tone of Vivian put Robin slightly at ease. Maybe she was just grateful to have someone not walking on eggshells around her. Maybe Robin was just too emotionally worn down to care. In any case, she examined the sinful combination of caramel and fudge brownie chunks swirled into chocolate ice cream and had to admit that it looked wonderfully enticing. “I’ve never really been a chocolate kind of guy. I always preferred vanilla.”
“Even better for the experiment!” Vivian took another bite. “Now dig in and let’s find out if you’re a chocolate kind of girl, Rosy!”
Robin wiped away the remnants of her tears, though she was sure her eyes were still puffy. “Please don’t call me Rosy.”
“Well I’m definitely giving you some kind of nickname with your hair. Most girls have to dye their hair to get that shade of scarlette. I’m going with Rosy because of that and because of your oh-so-vibrant personality. Now eat up, Rosy!”
Robin rolled her eyes once more. Stubborn and absurd; Robin really was talking to girl-Cory. Robin dipped her spoon in, mining for the perfect bite that mixed the ice cream, brownie chunks, and caramel in even portions. Having mined the perfect scoop, she took a bite.
For a moment, Robin forget where she was. “Mmm.” It was as if that bite of ice cream had been created to make her forget about all of her problems and savor only the pure deliciousness. “Mmmmm! This tastes divine.”
“I knew it!” Vivian leapt to her feet and bounced on Noriko’s bed. “Women do love chocolate more than men! This proves it!”
“It proves nothing,” Robin said with a smile. Despite herself, she took another bite of the heavenly food. It wasn’t as good as that first taste, but Robin didn’t care at that point. “I’m just a case study, remember? Besides, I could just like it more due to that taste buds changing theory rather than your crazy hormone theory.”
“Now that,” Vivian said while pointing at Robin with her spoon, “is sexist. I didn’t say you had crazy hormones. I just said your brain chemistry has been altered. You just assumed crazy hormones because you’re a girl now.” Vivian shook her head and took another bite. “Dats just vewy misogyniftic of youf.”
Robin shrugged. “Either way. There is no way to tell if it’s taste buds or brain chemistry.”
Vivian nodded and plopped back down to her knees. Noriko’s bed was officially a mess. Robin had the distinct impression this wasn’t the first time Vivian had ever done this to Noriko’s personal space. “Fair enough. Now let’s get to the part where we complain about stuff! Sit on your bed though like I do, on your knees and stuff. Or, you know, lounge on your pillow.”
“Why do I have to do that?”
“Uh, hello?” Vivian grinned. “It’s the only proper way for choco-phagial communication therapy to work. I should know. I’m the psychologist here.”
Robin gave her a flat look. “You are one week into your four year developmental psychology degree. To say nothing of having to get your PhD. I doubt your claim of expertise.”
Vivian swallowed another bite pointedly. “Technicalities! I’m the expert. I’ve been practicing being a woman for eighteen years now. You’ve done it for, what, eight hours? By comparison I’m a freaking Einstein! Trust me!” Vivian gestured to her face. “Growing up, I had the worst acne, and let me tell you I used many a choco-phagial communication therapy sessions with my mom to get through that. Knees. Bed. Now.”
“I thought I could lounge on my pillow?” Robin stood up and humored her self-appointed supposed therapist. “And choco-phagial isn’t a word.”
“I would have allowed the pillow but it seems your case is too severe. Also you kept complaining. But let’s pretend it’s because your case is too severe. You need to perch on your knees like a proper lady now. And choco is the latin root for chocolate. Phage is latin to eat. Choco-phagial: eating chocolate. Communication therapy: talking through your problems with another. Ta-daa! Choco-phagial communication therapy.”
Robin climbed onto her bed but ignored Vivian’s instructions and lounged on her pillow. Sitting on her knees felt far too perky and girly for how she felt. If Vivian minded she didn’t let on. “I thought communication therapy was for couple’s counseling.”
“Oh quit worrying about what I call it. You suck all the joy out of it if you do that! This is why you hard science people are boring. Now,” Vivian paused to take another bite, “I think I know just the subject for us to start this mondo-whining session with.”
Robin followed Vivian’s lead and took another bite, careful not to let any melting chocolate spill on her bed. “Oh doof you now?”
“Yup! Hair! Tell me having hair that long isn’t driving you absolutely bat-sugar insane!”
Robin nodded her head and swallowed hard. “Yes!” She sat up and lifted up her strands up for critiquing. “I got it caught in the door walking into this room! Yanked my head straight back!”
“Tell me about it!” Vivian held her even longer strands of jet black up. “Did you know I used to keep my hair nearly as short as you did as a boy?”
Robin raised an eyebrow. Wasn’t this session supposed to be about Robin’s problems? “No. I figured you liked your hair long.”
“Nope! I had totally cute short hair! Then my aunt got cancer, went through chemotherapy, so all the women in my mom’s family decided to grow our hair out for a year and then we’d shave it all off and donate the hair to cancer societies. Solidarity, right?
Robin nodded. “That’s a nice thought.”
“Yeah, so week before we’re supposed to cut it all off, bam, monster attack and I become Spirit Guard. Not only does my hair get even longer but now I can’t go bald!”
Robin sat up with a panic. “Wait, you mean we can’t cut our hair?”
Vivian smiled grimly. “We can but it doesn’t last more than a day. When you wake up, bam, it’s like this again. All part of our super healing, I think.”
Robin slumped against her pillow. “You kidding me? I was planning on getting this stupid mop chopped up first thing tomorrow!”
“No dice!” Vivian slammed Noriko’s bed for emphasis. “I mean, I still got my head shaved with my mom but last month was the first time I could go home without a haircut to simulate slow but normal hair growth. And let me tell you, all that hair cutting makes you hungry!”
“Hungry?” Robin asked.
“Yeah, so, like, if we shaved your head tonight, by the time you wake up, bam, you’d have a full head of lucius crimson in the morning. This is because, I think, it uses the same healing as our regular bodies heal. It’s like the Spirit Sticks have a template of what we should be at healthwise and it just burns fat or energy or something until it gets to that point.”
“Interesting,” Robin nodded. “Have you tested this a lot then?”
“Like I said, I was cutting my hair every time I knew I’d see my folks. I just had to pretend I just,” Vivian affected a voice of super excitement, “really liked how my hair looked that long, so I’m growing it out again!” Vivian frowned and stuffed her face with another bite.
“So you don’t like your hair this long?” Robin decided to throw a hint. “Cory really seems to find it quite attractive on you.”
It was Vivian’s turn to roll her eyes. “I see what you did there. But, yeah, more to the point, I do think it looks great. I mean, especially with the first transformation clearing out my acne and making my plain black hair this shimmering mane of ebony. I mean,” Vivian ran her hand down her mane, letting the light glisten off each strand dramatically, “look at this. I’m like a hair commercial’s dream spokesman. Or, you know, would be if I was taller. Anyways, yeah, sometimes I’ll just throw my head back dramatically because, seriously, it looks so freaking cool!”
Vivian let her hair drop and continued her point. “So yeah, it looks just great. Especially with how short I am. I don’t know why, but really long hair on short girls like us… just looks amazing. Maybe it does something to make us seem taller or something. I don’t get the aesthetics of it.” Vivian pointedly shoved her spoon into her container. “But do you know how annoying hair this long is, Rosy? It’s a pain in our angelcakes!”
Robin laughed. Again, it wasn’t Robert’s baby walrus laugh like she expected but the giggle of some unknown girl. Someone who could have been a cheerleader at her high school. But this time it wasn’t such a shock to her system. She hated her cheerleader laugh, but she’d just have to deal with it for now. On the plus side, she realized she now had a great excuse to avoid high school reunions.
“Yeah, I think I’m getting some idea how annoying it is.” She held up her wavy hair to accentuate her point. “Caught in the door, remember? Plus it bunches up any time I sit down.” Just mentioning it made her realize it bunched up again. She sat up but her too-tight shirt shifted with her, exposing some of her back. The feeling of hair brushing against the small of her back was so alien it made Robin shiver.
“Yeah, you definitely have to slow down going through doors now. If you let your hair trail behind you too far it gets caught in all sorts of thing. Trees, bushes, and zipper on your book bags or clothes.” Vivian took another bite then raised a finger as if she had just remembered something. “Youf weally gotta watch outf fer,” Vivian swallowed to clear her throat. “the doors in the Petrus Checker Building. I swear those things snap shut like a mousetrap. Only, you know, for hair.”
“Petrus Checker Building? Which one is that?”
“South end of campus. Lot of the artsy classes. Just got a big howdy-doody renovation. I swear it’s a maze meant only for the artsy-farts. It takes their alien brains to comprehend its corridors.”
Robin gave an amused snort. “And you, a total film junkie from what I can gather, aren’t an artsy-fart?”
“Nooo,” Vivian scolded. “I’m a woman of science. Like you. Remember? Or did all that mass from your brain go into your boobs?”
Robin grunted. “These boobs suck!” She poked one for emphasis. “I can’t even cross my arms anymore without them squeezing together a bit.”
Vivian nodded appreciatively. “This is the complaining I was talking about! And I bet, given how upsetting the past few hours have been, you’d like to cross your arms in a display of displeasure a lot more.”
“Exactly!” Robin took an angry bite. “What does Fate have against me that she does this to me? I would have been the only woman on the planet happy with a stick-like body and a flat chest. Instead I’m… this!”
Vivian tapped her spoon to her chin. “You know, the other girls didn’t seem as interested but I have a theory on that too.”
Robin threw her hands up. “Of course you do.”
Vivian grinned. “Well, on one side, we have emotion powers. We end up in cheerleader outfits because Angie, bless her literal-minded subconscious, gets asked by her stick to find some sort of template that inspires positive emotions…”
Robin found that tidbit interesting. Vivian’s version sounded slightly different from the way Ms. Kuna had explained it. “Ms. Kuna told me that you all weren’t sure about Angela being the source of the cheerleader outfits.”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “Ms. Kuna is always nice about it but, come on, that’s clearly what happened. I know there is some doubt but, please, Angela was a stinkin’ cheerleader at the time.” Robin nearly spit out her bite of ice cream. “Of course, it’s Angela’s fault. Her subconscious naturally went there first. I mean, Angie can’t control her subconscious of course but, yeah, she’s still responsible.”
Robin sat up straight suddenly very uninterested in the Spirit Guard’s template. “Angela was a cheerleader?”
Vivian grinned maliciously. “I have said too much.”
“You’re not joking?”
Vivian bit her bottom lip, but couldn’t hide her grin. “It’s not my story to tell, but, yes, our pure-of-heart, innocent, rule-minded, and sometimes stick-up-her-caboose leader shook her pompoms and cheered the boys onto victory part of last year and all throughout high school.”
Robin thought about it and, visually at least, it worked. Angela was one of the prettiest girls he had ever seen. She was, in fact, gorgeous. Yet he just couldn’t see her actually being part of a real cheer squad. “So, like, she wore the uniform around campus? Midriff bare and everything.”
Vivian nodded. “When I first saw her she was cheering at one of Mal’s volleyball games. She looked great. As she always does.”
Vivian swayed her head side-to-side. Robin could tell she was deciding how much to say though Robin could tell the tiny brunette wanted to tell all. “It’s not my story to tell but suffice it to say there was some drama, as there is wont to be with cheerleaders, and Angela also felt she needed to focus on her other cheer team more.”
Drama with cheerleaders. Boy was that ever familiar. Though Robin couldn’t imagine Angela, who seemed to be as pure as the wind-driven snow, would start drama. “I just can’t believe Angela would be a cheerleader. Ever. Seems so… not her personality.”
Vivian shrugged. “Angela likes to be a part of something. Plus, she naturally gravitates towards leadership roles and being hyper involved. At her high school she apparently was Class President twice, involved in several clubs, and, as a cheerleader, would be involved in lot of the planning and carrying out of student activities and pep rallies. I think it makes lots of sense.”
Robin hadn’t considered that at all. “Never thought of it like that.”
“I have to say,” Vivian chirped with her trademarked impish grin, “this therapy session is going great! Not even ten minutes in and I have you gossiping like a proper young woman!”
“I’m not gossiping!”
“We’re talking about the private affairs of another girl and discussing character defects. You’re totally gossiping with me.”
Robin scowled. “I am not!”
“Please,” Vivian teased, “the only way to make this gossip session more cliche better is if we were both wearing booty shorts and tanks and ended the discussion with a giggly and sexy pillow fight.”
“I thought this was a choco-phagic communicative whatever therapy session,” Robin countered.
Vivian tapped her spoon on her chin again. “And you bought that?” Robin grunted and Vivian giggled. “But you’re right. Sorry. I can be a bit of an insensitive jerk when I’m trying to be funny.” She took another bite and pushed Noriko’s pillow to her side. She spread her legs out and lounged in a similar position to Robin. “We’re supposed to be complaining about how unfair life is and stuff. And I was about to tell you about my theory about your ample bosom and our great looks in general.”
Robin shivered. “Never call it my ‘ample bosom’ ever again.”
“What do you want me to call them? Funbags? Melons? Hooters?” Vivian teased.
Robin groaned, hoping that Vivian picked up that this line of humor was starting to grate her. “We’re women of science, so let’s try calling them breasts.”
Vivian stopped smiling and cleared her throat. “Sorry. Yes. Of course. So, yours are large. Mallory told me hers grew too. Along with her muscles. My figure improved and…”
Robin rolled her hand around to indicate for Vivian to move forward. “Yeah. Ms. Kuna told me you all got some kind of visual improvements to make you more attractive.”
“Oh, good. That simplifies things. Anyway, I started looking at myself after I changed and I found out I resembled my grandmother on my mom’s side a bit more.”
Robin raised an eyebrow. “Meaning?”
“Like, it wasn’t just my acne and my cup size. My face shifted a little and I just looked a lot more like her. She was a beautiful woman.”
“Still not catching the vision here, Vivian.”
“Well, I think the Spirit Sticks look for visually appealing traits in our genes and bring them out more. Like my grandmother’s perfect skin. Angela let me look over some of her old photos of her mom and a few of her other family members. A few of them had that same shade of golden blonde hair. Exact same as her mother. She had been more of a dishwater blonde before that. As for figure, and her figure is well put together I might add, very similar to one of her aunts on her paternal side who did some stripping back in the day.”
Robin leaned back and stared at the ceiling. Stripping in Angela’s family? That didn’t seem like the type of background Robin would have thought Angela came from, but Robin wasn’t here to talk about Angela’s life. “So, what? You’re saying the Sticks sort of comb our DNA for attractive female features? For what purpose?”
“Ah yes! You ask the important questions! My thought,” Vivian said with her spoon held high, “is that people’s emotions respond more readily to attractive people. It’s why companies use them in commercials to act as their spokesmen and spokeswoman. So the idea is the Sticks take some of our better genes, mix them up slightly to make us the most beautiful they can, and then that creates a more dramatic empathokinetic connection between us and those around us.”
Robin bit down on her thumbnail. “But I thought our empathokinetic power came from ourselves – not others.”
Vivian nodded. “Very true, but sympathy is a real thing. When you feel one way, whether the effect is strong or not, people tend to somewhat mimic that emotion. It’s that way for most mentally healthy humans. It’s nature. We’re emotional chameleons to a degree. So if more attractive people get a bigger emotional response…”
Robin finished off the thought. “Then inspiring stronger emotions in others might, in turn, boost our own empathokinetic power by reinforcing our own emotions.”
Vivian clapped. “I love this! No one else thinks about this stuff like I do! The other girls are willing to just leave it at ‘it’s magic.’”
Robin scoffed. “Didn’t you just call it magic back at my dorm?”
“This is your dorm.”
“My old one, you angelcake!”
Vivian brushed Robin’s retort off with a giggle. “Magic is so much easier to say and explain than empathokinesis. Plus, talking about the mechanics of all this gives the other girls a case of bored eyes.” Despite the dismissal of magic versus empathokinetics verbage, Robin could see Vivian was being sincere about being really excited to have someone to bounce theories off of.
Robin smirked. “Bored eyes?”
“Yeah, like when someone’s eyes glaze over because they are bored of a topic of conversation? Bored eyes.”
Robin could only shake her head and smile. She had compared Vivian to Cory but, in truth, this girl really was unlike anyone else Robin knew. She was, completely to Robin’s shock and dismay, the exact type of person she needed at the moment to brighten up her otherwise gloomy night. “Seems like a big expenditure of effort. Creating a team of beautiful warriors by searching through their DNA just for a small boost of power.”
“It’s war,” Vivian justified. “You go for every edge you can get. The military tries all sorts of hair-brained ideas to get any edge they can in a battle.”
“True,” Robin conceded. “Very true. So have you looked to Mallory and Kara to confirm this further?”
Vivian pouted, “Mal refuses to help because, I think, she likes spiting me for her own amusement.”
Robin grinned. “Gee. I wonder why she finds that amusing? You don’t ever push other people’s buttons for your own enjoyment.”
“Hey!” Vivian protested. “That is… almost not true!”
Vivian grinned guiltily, “Anyway, I guess this is the long way of asking if any of your relatives were hot like you.”
Robin sat back up. “What?”
“Like your mom, maybe? Or a grandmother or aunt? I’m willing to bet you have a strong resemblance to someone there in family.”
Robin laid back down and considered Vivian’s point. “I don’t know. Maybe?” Robin sighed, afraid to divulge her next detail. “My mom was, apparently, a cheerleader here at SAU back in the day.”
Vivian bounced with excitement. “Cheerleader? Oh that’s perfect! Following in your mother’s footsteps already! Got a picture?”
Robin sighed. Talking about her parents was never easy for her. “I have one of my mom and dad from their wedding day.”
“Can I see?”
Robin hesitated but Vivian’s excited grin won her over. “Okay, yeah.” She struggled to pull the wallet out of her tiny pants, finally having to arch her back to wrest it free. Robin opened the wallet and found the picture. “But I know her hair wasn’t…”
Robin blinked at the picture. This couldn’t be right. Her mom’s hair was the same, vibrant, impossible shade of red as Robin’s hair. But how could Robin’s mom be a scarlette? Every other picture Robin had ever had ever seen of her mother showed a normal, if not beautiful, redhead. Even this picture, which Robin had looked at a thousand times, had always shown a regular redhead. What was going on?
Robin flipped through the two other pictures she had of her mother. One was a christmas photo with her mom posing with Grammy and a much younger Uncle Taylor. Her mom’s hair was crimson red again. The other last one showed her mom holding a tiny, baby Robert in the hospital. Her mother’s hair was still crimson red. This made no sense.
Vivian leapt over and snatched the wallet from Robin’s hands. “Let’s compare notes.” She examined the pictures and then glanced back at Robin. “Wow. What did you mean your mom’s hair wasn’t what? I mean, it’s the exact same shade. Yeah, her hair is a lot straighter but…”
“That’s what I meant,” Robin lied. “Her hair wasn’t wavy like mine.” Robin didn’t want to discuss the strange hair color change in the photos with Vivian. She had already been reluctant to talk about her parents with Vivian. She was barely comfortable asking Uncle about them. It was stupid. Vivian probably would have been a good person to examine the mystery with, but, for the moment, she couldn’t do it. She’d research this mystery herself.
“Ahhh.” Vivian nodded in ignorance of Robin’s lie. “Well, I have to say, wow. Your dad scored all right. Your mom was a straight up hottie!”
Robin’s shoulders sagged. “Please don’t call my deceased mother a hottie.”
Vivian winced at her faux paux. “Sorry. That was in poor taste.” Vivian handed back the wallet to Robin who in turn placed it next to her headphones. “But you definitely have her figure and face structure. Not sure why you’re so short and stacked though. Your mom was nearly as tall as your dad, and, while she definitely was curvy, she was nowhere near as busty as you.”
Robin winced. Even though it was true, she really didn’t like being referred to as “busty.” Vivian seemed to sense she had, again, gone too far and quickly moved away from the topic of cup-size. “But perhaps those are traits from your paternal side. How tall do they tend to run over on that end of your family?”
Robin paused and thought about it. “Well, my dad, as you saw, was tall but my Uncle sure ain’t. He’s only about 5’7″ or something like that. As I think about it, I think that my Grammy was pretty short.”
“Interesting. Well, any chance you have your Grammy’s photos around? I’d love to see if I could further nail this theory down.”
Robin shook her head. “Not in my wallet. I left her stuff back in Deepwater.”
Vivian sighed. “Shame. Well, at the very least, I’ll bet your charming drawal comes from her.”
Robin rolled her eyes. “Come on, Vivian. You know that speech isn’t genetic.” And while Robin knew that was true, she couldn’t deny that she too thought her accent seemed a bit stronger post-transformation.
“True,” Vivian agreed, “but your accent wasn’t as noticeable before this transformation. Something happened to your voice that just accents your… uh… accent more. Sure wish I could English better.”
Robin chuckled then continued her point, “But, again, it’s not a genetic thing to have an accent. So what changed?”
Vivian grimaced. “I’m not sure.” Vivian paced around the room. “I mean, it could just be an example of interviewer bias; I might just be more predisposed to notice a feminine twang to a male one.”
Robin shook her head. “I don’t think it’s that. I noticed it too.” Robin shrugged. “Frankly I’m kind of relieved to hear I’m not the only person who noticed it.”
Vivian smiled and jumped back on Noriko’s bed. “Oh good. Though that doesn’t preclude us both from having the bias. But discounting bias as the reason, it could just be the new register, pitch, tone, or whatever of your new vocal chords resonate better with the vowels that you naturally draw out, thus accentuating your twang more than it did before.”
Robin grimaced. “How thick does the accent sound to you?”
Vivian gave a reassuring smile. “It’s not that thick. You don’t sound like a hayseed hick or anything as cliche as that.” Robin gave a sigh relief. “However,” Robin wasn’t happy to hear that qualifier, “it’s noticeable enough I think some boys will be imagining you wearing either a belle’s dress or the stereotypical farmer’s daughter look.”
Robin groaned. “Why couldn’t you have just stopped at the ‘not a hick’ line?”
Vivian smiled but held her hands up defensively, “Hey, I don’t want to be held accountable for not telling you this at some later date. I’m avoiding any and all conversations that start out with the words, ‘why didn’t you warn me about this?'”
“Right. Cover your own angelcake, why don’t you?” Robin stuck her tongue out then took another bite of ice cream. At least caramel, brownies, and chocolate couldn’t disappoint her. She really was understanding the appeal of chocolate ice cream now. “Any other potential pitfalls you want to warn me about so I can’t blame you later?”
Vivian tapped her cheek. “Did I warn you about the Petro Checker Building doors?”
Robin nodded. “Snap shut like a mousetrap and grab long hair? Yeah.”
Vivian nodded proudly. “Oh good. So yeah. Watch the doors. Of course, we’ll have to teach you proper super-long hair care but at least we can abuse our cheer-hack to…”
Robin swallowed down another bite. “Cheer-hack?” Robin liked the sound of that.
Vivian’s impish grin morphed into an almost evil smile. “Ang and Kara hate it when I do this. It especially worries Ang.”
Vivian popped back up to sitting on her knees. “So, like, notice when you powered down how clean you were?”
Vivian’s shoulders slumped. “No? Come on? Like, you should have been all sweaty and grimy from battle. You didn’t notice you were as clean as a baby?”
Robin gave her a flat look. “You may not have noticed but I was focusing on other changes a bit more. I was more concerned with my body than what was on it.”
“Oh.” Vivian blushed. “Right.” Vivian coughed then continued. “So, you were squeaky clean. Trust me. Even your hair right now, I mean, look at it. Just like I said earlier, it looks like we belong in a shampoo commercial. Our hair is long, has amazing volume, no frayed ends, and both shine like a freshly mopped kitchen floor. Plus, your hair, wow it has just a fabulous amount of bounce that–”
Robin groaned. “The point, Vivian?”
“Right, sorry. Got sidetracked.” Vivian took a slow bite of ice cream and savored the taste for a moment. “Mmm! Anyway. Point is, and I’ve studied this, each time we power up then down our bodies are refreshed sort of. Like rebooting a computer.”
“How do you mean? Other than just being clean I mean?”
“Well, for example” Vivian mused, “notice all the cuts on your face during the Polygal fight? Of course you didn’t, because they are gone with the wind! Those got rebooted for you.”
“You sure that’s a good example?” Robin gestured to her full body. “I mean, I lost a lot more than a few cuts. About a foot in height disappeared too, to say nothing of my plumbing.”
Vivian erupted into a fit of a giggles. “Plumbing. Wow. Awesome.” She wiped a tear from her eye and sighed. “Yeah, okay, you’re a poor example.” She snapped her finger. “I know, so, like, my acne got cleared up when I first transformed but I still sometimes wake up with zits. One quick power up then power down and, voila, skin so clear you’d swear I had a facial made of angels’ kisses.”
Robin squinted. “Angels’ kisses?”
Vivian shrugged. “Yeah. Angels kisses would be, I don’t know, super soft or someth–point is, you doofus, the zit is gone. I also haven’t shaved my legs in months.”
Robin reflexively rubbed her thighs together. The tight jeans against her hairless legs still felt completely weird. “So you do this every morning?”
Vivian grinned evilly. “Well, I try not to overdo it. Every day Kara leaves before I do, and it’s a real time saver if I can avoid having to shower. Hair this long takes forever and a day to dry. Ang feels like it’s an abuse of power or something like that. Responsibility in restraint or honor – some silly notion for the valiant types.”
Robin was glad to hear not everyone was as wired for Spirit Guard duties as Angela was. “Angela worries about abuse of power? You’re just using it to skip a shower.”
Vivian’s smile deflated to a slightly guilty grin. “I’m painting a horrible picture of her. Angela’s just far more sincere and earnest than I’ll ever be. She looks back on our past lives in the Ardent Empire and sees the abuses of power that lead to societal erosion and blah, blah, blah. She fears small steps of abuse might corrupt us as it did the Queen.”
“I, on the other hand, just think Fate sort of owes us a solid, you know? Using magical power to avoid having to shower and saving money on hair care sounds like a fair tradeoff to me. Because, seriously,” Vivian held her hair up again, “look at how long our hair is! Do you know how much shampoo and conditioner we’d have to use to keep our hair looking presentable? If she’s going to force us to have long hair, I say it’s fine to abuse our abilities just a little bit.” Vivian leaned back against Noriko’s bed clearly satisfied to speak her mind on the issue.
Robin smirked. “But as the Scholar didn’t you make the Spirit Sticks? Isn’t the being stuck with long hair thing kinda your fault and not Fate’s?”
Vivian sat up with a pout, “That’s exactly what Mal said! Why are fingers getting pointed at me? Doesn’t everyone see that I’m a victim here? Can’t we get back to the part where we talk about what a bossy ninny Fate is and blame her for our problems? I liked that better.”
Robin chuckled. “Why does Kara not like it?”
Vivian sat back up. “Oh, Kara just feels like it’s cheating. And if people next to her are cheating and don’t feel guilty about it, Kara will start feeling guilty for them. She’s adorable like that. It’s why I wait for her to leave first. That way she doesn’t have to feel guilty.”
Robin was beginning to understand what the various empathokinetic blips she was feeling might have been. If Vivian was transforming nearly once a day to avoid a shower and leg shaving… Robin glanced down at her own legs. “So I can’t get my haircut, but I can at least avoid having to shave my legs?”
Vivian pursed her lips and considered. “Probably.” Then she shook her head, “I mean, I’d recommend we show you how at least once. I mean, it’d be suspicious if leg shaving or waxing came up and you didn’t really have any good opinion on it.”
Robin stuck out her tongue. “Shaving versus waxing? How the honey often does that conversation come up? Is that an actual frequent topic?”
Vivian nodded sagely. “More often than you’d think.”
“How perfectly vague of you,” Robin grumbled.
“Brilliant, right?” Vivian chuckled at her own joke then shrugged. “But seriously, yeah, with the cheer-hack, you and I can get around a lot of annoying little things, but it’d probably be a good idea if we walk you through it anyway. I mean, just so you can fit in better if you are ever in an all-girl situation that doesn’t involve other super cheerleaders or a ninja that knows your tragic backstory.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right.” Robin grumbled again and took a consoling bite of her ice cream. Why on Earth did this taste so good? Could it really have been something as stereotypical as girls just loving chocolate more? Robin preferred to think it just so happened to be a flavor that really agreed with her new taste buds combined with the self-indulgent need to devour her feelings. But Robin couldn’t lie and say Vivian’s cooky arguments weren’t having an effect on her.
Vivian took another large bite and let her satisfied moans fill the air. The discussion of shaving her legs brought to mind another topic Robin wasn’t comfortable talking about. “So… it helps with zits and leg hair and stuff?”
“Yup!” Vivian began licking the inside of her carton. How could she already be finished? And how could she be so… undignified? Maybe girls weren’t as clean as life on the other side of a Y chromosome had lead Robin to believe.
“And it seems to use up calories to regenerate your hair and wounds?”
“You’ve got it now, Rosy.”
“So hypothetically,” Robin took another bite before continuing her conjecture, “if we just cut our hair, we could burn whatever calories we want?”
Vivian’s chocolate-colored eyes lit up with an excitement she hadn’t seen yet. Robin feared the burst of energy that was about to wash over the room. “Finally! Someone sees the beauty of it!” Vivian triumphantly jumped on Noriko’s bed. “You get it!”
Robin scooted back an inch. “Um, I’m not sure if I do, apparently.”
“We can burn whatever calories we want!” Vivian landed on the ground and saluted like she was a gymnast. “We don’t need to eat healthy at all! Our bodies are constantly healing. And, I’ve tested this, each transformation uses up a small but significant expenditure of energy. If we transform often and cut our hair once in a while, we’ll burn off anything we could possible eat! So why not let everything we eat be greasy and delicious?”
Robin’s conscience told her there was something morally wrong about this attitude, but she liked where this train was going, so she decided to ignore it. “You cut your hair often then?”
Vivian nodded happily. “And I wake up the next day famished, but it’s worth it to be able to justify eating donuts and pastries each morning. Plus, I can keep donating my gorgeous locks to cancer societies.” Vivian tossed her hair back for effect. Robin had to admit that Vivian really did look like she belonged in a shampoo commercial when she did that. “So, you see, really if you follow my lead on this one, we’re just being super charitable to people in chemotherapy.”
Robin shook her head and laughed. “How often do you do that?”
Vivian fussed with her hair to get it all back into place. “Well, not as frequently as I’d like to. I found out if you donate too often people start worrying where you get all this hair from and you can tell their appreciation letters are tinged with the fear that you might be some weirdo who cuts people’s hair off. I now use fake addresses and names and such. Mostly claiming to be phony hair salons and such.”
Robin let another giggle escape. She may have hated the new sound of her laugh, but she couldn’t pretend that Vivian’s hair donation antics weren’t hitting her squarely in the funny bone. “Wow.” Robin nodded. “It does kind of sound creepy when you put it like that.”
“I know, right?” Vivian tossed her empty pint of ice cream in Robin’s garbage can. “But back to the point at hand. Each transformation seems to try to reset us back to the body we had when we did our first power down. That being the case, I don’t see why I should eat healthy other than I’d get tummy aches if I ate exclusively junk food.”
Robin dipped her spoon into her pint, contemplating the thought of getting to just eat whatever. As a football player, Robert had always paid at least some attention to his diet. That habit hadn’t stopped when he quit the team. “I assume from your tone the other girls don’t see it your way?”
Vivian pointed her finger out the window. “I’m certain Mal uses it. She talks about health food like she’s all nuts and berries and protein shakes, but I don’t see any of that stuff in her pantry. Well, I mean, not as much as you’d think you should. But there is no way Mal doesn’t transform on gameday to make sure her body is at its peak.”
Robin gave Vivian a flat look. “You go through her pantry?”
“Not the point,” Vivian coughed.
“Point is, she’s pretending not to for the sake of Ang who…”
A thought permeated Robin’s mind. She suddenly felt very nervous. “Yeah. You mentioned Angela and Kara’s opinions.” Robin swirled her spoon nervously around the edges of her ice cream. There wasn’t much left. Where had it all gone? She certainly couldn’t have eaten that much, right? “Vivian. Uh, the transforming healing stuff… does it have a similar effect to… uh… well…”
Vivian gave an apologetic smile and let Robin struggle for a few moments to find the words she wanted before Vivian finished Robin’s sentence. “Menstruation?”
Robin winced. Even the word sounded disgusting. “Could you not have just said ‘periods?’ Is that too much to ask?”
“You were taking too long. Frankly, I’m surprised it took you this long to ask about this. It would have been question number one if I had been a guy.” Robin could feel herself blushing. “And, yeah, menstruation is a gross word, but, come on, everyone else has probably been all tippy-toe-y around you all day. You seem to be okay with my irreverence so far. I’ll bet it’s nice to get someone who doesn’t make a big deal about it or, gasp, even is willing to laugh through the stupidity of it all. Because, seriously, this is so stupid that you’re having to go through this.”
Robin took a deep breath. “It is a breath of fresh air,” she admitted. “But… that subject? I don’t know.” Robin let out a long breath before pushing forwards. “How about you just give me the answer.”
Vivian’s shoulders slumped. “Well. Sorry. No. My cycle has been nearly unaffected by transforming.”
“Well, I mean, after the first transformation I skipped a month. I think, and it’s merely conjecture here, my body needed to sort of fully reboot in the new form. But after that, I’ve been just as frequent as before.” She gave another apologetic smile. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Rosy. But, yeah, you’ll likely have to deal with the big red monster just like everyone else with the double-x chromosome.”
Robin groaned. Her body seemed to ache at just the mere thought of a period. “Is it as bad as TV and movies make it out to be?”
Vivian giggled. “Almost absolutely not.”
“Again with the qualifiers,” Robin grumbled. “Why almost?”
“Well,” Vivian leaned forward with excitement, “if you think about it, most scripts are written by men. Fact is, Hollywood is really bad at being a men’s club. Please note that, like a men’s club, only women who look hot can get in and they are there only to be looked at.”
Robin rubbed her temples. “The point, Vivian?”
“Right. Sorry.” Vivian giggled at herself and continued. “But let’s think about it. When you write about something you don’t have first hand, you tend to exaggerate the parts you don’t know. So periods in cinema tend to get exaggerated. Especially the mood swings. But that’s not even the biggest point.”
“What would that be?”
“It’s different for each woman. Some girls cramp up horribly and feel like vomiting all day. But for most of us it’s like having a mild flu. You’re achy, feel bloated, and yeah, have a rush of hormones you don’t normally have in such high quantities, and, yes, that can lead to some mood swings. But really it’s just like any other sick day except you leak down there.” Vivian shrugged. “My aunt apparently gets it really bad and has to save sick days for Aunt Flo’s visits, but, for me, I can go about my day just fine. I’m just a little grumpy because everyone is grumpy when they have to work on a day they feel sick. Very few people have good attitudes when their body is acting up.”
Robin gave a sigh of relief. That didn’t sound as bad as she had feared. “Then again,” Vivian added, “given your luck so far, you’ll be cramping up like a marathon runner without water.”
Robin flopped onto her pillow. “Thanks for the pep talk.”
Vivian giggled apologetically. “I’m just saying, so far, everything about your change seems to be an outlier. I guess, though, you could go the other way too and barely notice. There really is no way of knowing until it happens.”
Robin shook her head and stared at the ceiling. “Holding pattern. Seems par for the course for me.”
“Yeah. It really bites.” Vivian followed Robin’s lead and flopped onto Noriko’s pillow. Noriko’s bed, in a few short minutes, had transformed into a disaster zone. There were spots of ice cream here and there and the sheets were ruffled like a potato chip. Robin decided that the short brunette was a walking cleaning hazard.
Robin wanted to change the subject to something that didn’t seem to upset her stomach. “Won’t the ninja be pissed you messed up her bed and got ice cream on it?”
Vivian smiled. “She’ll be annoyed, yes. But I think she likes it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I’m fun!” Vivian popped back up. Like a puppy, she seemed unable to stay in one position very long. “Plus, when I mess with her stuff it’s the closest she’ll come to showing any emotion.”
“Aren’t you worried she’ll take it wrong and think you’re picking on her?”
Vivian dismissed the thought with a wave. “She gets that I just like to ruffle everyone’s feathers. I mess with everyone who is my friend. I’ll probably rearrange your stuff too just to bug you at some point. Also, if you get a random, unmatched sock in your laundry… that’s likely me. Unless it’s Kara trying to to pretend it’s me and get me in trouble. She’s sometimes really sneaky.”
Robin sat up on her elbows. “You’ll put an unmatched sock in someone else’s laundry? Why?”
Vivian demonstrably groaned and blew some tufts of black out of her face. “You don’t see the genius of it either? Sheesh. You and Mal both need to smell the roses, Rosy. I mean, Ang not getting it. That makes sense. Ang doesn’t have the sense of humor required to appreciate my genius. But you and Mal. For shame.”
Robin rolled her eyes once again. She was starting to see how Eli felt dealing with Cory by himself for years. “Help me catch the vision, Vivian.”
“That’s the attitude!” Vivian clapped. “So you know how annoying it is to have one sock that has lost it’s partner?”
“So when you get one, you just put it in someone else’s hamper and, tadaa, not your problem anymore! Now they have to wonder where it’s partner ran off to or, if they are perceptive, where on earth this sock came from! It’s hilarious!”
Robin had to admit there was a certain comedy to the idea. She just didn’t have to admit it out loud. “Seems mildly amusing at best. I mean, you don’t ever see them struggle with it.”
“Well yeah,” Vivian admitted. “But the thought of them having to deal with it is funny enough. I get at least two chuckles each time I do it. Though, over the summer, I did it to Noriko often enough that she was able to return two and a half pairs of socks to me.”
Robin giggled again and reminded herself to not focus on the alien sound that came from her mouth. “You sound like you’re terrible with losing socks.”
“Psh. Whatever. They just are intimidated by my intelligent and quirky charm.”
Robin squinted. “Who are intimidated? The socks?”
“Finally! Someone understands! It’s not my fault the socks are such scaredy cats!”
“You are so wei…” Robin froze as a pure black silhouette jumped onto the window ledge, just over Vivian’s head. Instinctively she used her extra sense to reach and and feel for her Spirit Stick. It was under her pillow if she just…
Vivian noticed Robin’s reaction and spun around with a grin. “Oh! Heya Spooky!”
Spooky? It dawned on Robin that, of course, the black-clad silhouette would be the ninja-girl returning home. Because of course she wouldn’t use the door. Or teleport stones. Windows surely made the most sense.
Noriko wedged the window open and squeezed into the bedroom. No sooner was she in than she shut the blinds and removed her mask. Her short black hair spilled out. Her face was nearly as expressionless as the mask she had worn. The only hint of emotion came from her brown, almond-shaped eyes. They seemed annoyed. “Vivian, you have spilled food on my bed. Again.”
“Did I?” Vivian asked with mock surprise. “Oops! I did! Sorry about that!” Vivian grinned from ear to ear, seemingly overjoyed that she had been caught.
“I doubt your sincerity.” Robin was glad that Noriko at least wasn’t naive. A naive ninja would be very dangerous. “Could you not have just as easily sat on the other bed and eaten ice cream?”
Vivian pouted. “Why would I do that? Your bed is so much more comfy.”
“Our mattresses were bought from the same mattress wholesaler last January. They were all made in the same factory. The odds of one bed being more comfortable than another are minimal.” Robin thought about the amount of bouncing Noriko’s bed had endured and decided Noriko was wrong on that point.
Vivian shrugged. “Say what you will, but yours is so much comfier than the others.”
Noriko sighed and glanced at Robin. It was the most emotion she had seen on the ninja’s face yet. It was a face that quietly asked, “Do you see what I have to deal with?” Robin on the other hand was amused by Vivian’s teasing. The fact that she teased a ninja, something comics had taught Robin you should never tease, probably was the biggest reason.
Noriko bowed slightly towards Robin and greeted the scarlette. “I understand you and I are to be roommates now, Robynne?”
Robin decided she’d jump on the teasing bandwagon with Vivian. Noriko had threatened Eli and Cory after all. “Nah. Just decided to move all my stuff in here for the fun of it.”
Noriko gave another sigh. She obviously didn’t appreciate the sarcasm. “Indeed.” She removed her satchel from over her shoulder. The ninja, seemingly unconcerned with Rob’s presence, peeled herself out of her morph suit. In moments, Noriko stood only in a black pair of brief panties and a sports bra.
Robin blinked. Had a woman just casually undressed herself just right in front of him? No. Her. In front of her. Robin chastised herself. Of course Noriko undressed herself in Robin’s presence. Robin was a girl too. She just needed to hide her surprise before–
Vivian laughed like a hyena. “What’s the blush for, Rosy?”
Noriko opened her dresser but paused to observe Vivian’s giggles. “Rosy? I thought she decided to go with the name Robynne after her grandmother.”
Robin desperately tried to stop blushing, but she was unsure how exactly to do that. “I did.” Why was she blushing so much? It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen worse in movies or on the internet. Then again, it had never been done in front of her before. Robin was starting to realize that growing up in a house with only her Uncle had left her a tad bit more sheltered than she originally anticipated. The only undressing she had ever seen was in the football locker room, and that was a bunch of dudes. She was going to have to rewire her brain for what was and was not proper states of undress for the respective genders.
“Then why did… nevermind. I forgot Vivian’s proclivity for nicknames.” Noriko fished out a pair of black sweats and a simple, pastel green tank top from her dresser.
Vivian made the motion of shooting a pistol. “Pow! Bullseye, Spooky! You got it. Feel free to call her Rosy too. She loves it!”
Noriko stared at Vivian for a moment and just blinked. It was as if was trying to piece together how Vivian existed. It was unlikely there was anyone like Vivian back in her ninja village or wherever she was from. Then again, Robin was fairly certain there was no one like Vivian back in Deepwater either.
The ninja gave up on solving the puzzle of Vivian and quickly got dressed. She separated her short sword from her satchel and hid it in her dresser. Every movement she made was quick and purposeful. Despite how fast the movements were, it seemed clear to Robin that this ninja was not rushing her motions but rather was moving with intense purpose.
In a few short moments, she had put everything away except her satchel. Noriko paused and examined it. The pause was just long enough to seem out of place compared to her other motions. “Got something on your mind?” Vivian chirped as Robin shoved the last bit of her ice cream into her mouth and savored its flavor.
Noriko took a deep breath before she said, “Indeed.” Noriko approached Robin. “Robynne Darling. You made a tremendous sacrifice today. Such a sacrifice is rare.” Noriko’s face remained passive but Robin could see sincerity in her eyes. “I… apologize… for judging you, your intentions, and your friends so harshly a few days ago. I was… wrong. Please forgive me.” Noriko gave another slight bow.
Robin sat there, spoon still in her mouth, unsure of what to say. She really hadn’t expected this. Part of her really didn’t want this. There was a small bit of solace she could take in holding a grudge against Ms. Kuna’s prized ninja. Uncle had always said it was petty to hold grudges. He was right, of course, but it didn’t mean it didn’t sometimes feel good to hold them anyway.
Robin fished the spoon out of her mouth and sighed. Sure, she couldn’t talk to Uncle Taylor, but she knew exactly how he’d want her to react. “Don’t worry about it. You were just doing your job.” Robin really didn’t want to admit her next line. “We all misjudge people at some point.”
Noriko nodded and unzipped her satchel. “I am pleased we resolved that.” Robin squinted. What was she fishing around for? “Now, at the mall I did my duty as a member of the Hush Corps to eliminate every trace of evidence that you, Elijah Drake, or Cory Frost had been there. In my search, I found something I think you might want.”
Robin leaned forward and tossed her pint of ice cream in her garbage. “Something I might want?” Robin searched her mind. Did Noriko get her a present? Or did Robin forget something at the mall? She still had her phone and wallet. What else was there?
Noriko removed what looked to be a rolled up magazine from her satchel. “I apologize if it got ruffled in my carrying case. It is a rather tight fit, and this was the only way I could wedge it in. I regret to inform you most of the damage was done before I touched it. Seems it got stepped on a lot by stampeding mall goers.” The ninja unrolled the magazine to reveal that it wasn’t, in fact, a magazine at all. It was a comic book. Robin recognized and accepted it with near reverence.
Collider #187. The issue Robert had bought inside Dungeon Direct earlier that morning. The cover was, indeed, dirty and torn from being stepped on. The entire book was folded in half, and that wasn’t even mentioning the circular warping from Noriko’s method of delivery had created. No doubt the collection value of this specific comic was shot.
Yet, to Robin, it was the most valuable comic she had ever owned. Much like her self-identity, it was battered, bruised, trampled, and torn, yet it was still intact and still hers. And Noriko had spent the time to bring it. “I can’t believe you bothered to pick it up.”
Noriko shrugged. “It was evidence of your presence there. It was my duty to remove it.”
“D’aww!” Vivian jumped up and attempted to hug Noriko, “you just wanted to make Robyn feel better! You do have a heart!”
Noriko ducked Vivian’s hug, spun around to Vivian’s back, and with a simple light push, redirected Vivian’s momentum to carry her out the door. The moment she crossed the threshold of the doorway, Noriko snapped the door shut and locked it. The entire combination of moves had been a single fluid motion as if Noriko had been dancing with Vivian as an unwitting partner.
Vivian pounded on the other side. “Hey! That’s so not fair! You cheated and used your judo-fu on me!”
Noriko’s tone remained even and poised. “I have been quite busy today and did not have magically augmented strength and endurance to accomplish my tasks. I require rest. I shall see you in the morning, Ms. Joy.”
“But Robyn needs more therapy! She’ll clearly go crazy without my help!”
Noriko walked away from the door. Robin thought she could see the vaguest hint of a smirk on the ninja’s face, but it was hard to tell. “In my estimation, Robynne seems of quite sound mind, especially given today’s ordeal. I find your concern to be unwarranted.”
Vivian remained uncharacteristically quiet for a moment. Then she pounded on the door again. “Rosy! You’re locked in a room with an evil ninja! You’ll need rescuing! Open up the door!”
Robin grinned and relaxed against her pillow and opened up her comic. “Sorry Vivian. Noriko has me trapped with a comic book. Can’t escape.”
“Sorcery!” Vivian exclaimed.
Noriko raised an eyebrow and lowered her voice. “I’m sorry if you wanted to talk with her more. I know you haven’t had the easiest day either. I just grow weary of her unmaking and spilling things on my bed for the sole purpose of bothering me and amusing herself.”
Robin shrugged. It hadn’t been a few minutes ago that she hated this girl, but it was amazing what a sincere apology and returning a comic book at the right time could do. Plus, Robin suspected this ninja was deriving as much joy from locking Vivian out as Vivian got from messing with Noriko’s things. “Don’t worry about it. This day has been tough on everyone except whoever gets the contract to repair the mall’s damage. We all could use some rest.” Robyn left out the part where keeping Vivian locked out meant she could finally read her comic.
“Rosy? Spooky? You gonna let me in now?”
Robin grinned. “Thanks for the talk, Viv. I needed that, but now I got to read my comic. It’s even more important for my therapy.”
The muffled Vivian dismissed Robin’s claim. “Bah!” Despite her words, Robin could hear Vivian was amused. “That room is occupied by a ninja and a transgendered super cheerleader, and yet it’s still filled with the most boring people ever!”
“Night Vivian,” Robin chuckled and turned to the first page. Last issue, Collider had figured out she had been trapped in Virtually’s electronic reality simulation for seven issues. She had been running around in circles for his amusement. Now, Robin was eager to find out how Collider would escape.
And thus we get our first extended look at Vivian. I hope she was enjoyable, believable, and fun because, you know, that’s kind of what I wanted her to be. I based her a little bit off of my father. Very loosely. VERY loosely. My dad’s sense of humor really. Whenever times are tough he’d always make a joke and say the thing that no one else would say. It was always a strange but welcome relief. It’s just nice, when the chips are down, to have someone willing to just laugh about how bad everything sucks. It sometimes crosses a line, but I feel the pros outweigh the cons.
I hope the exposition in this chapter felt natural. Obviously it was another infodump. I’m just praying the infodump felt conversational and meandering enough to be something that doesn’t read like a wiki page. Hopefully Vivian’s chaco-phagial conversation therapy worked for everyone.
The concept I really wanted to get through that I’m worried didn’t involved the mystery of Rob’s mother’s hair color. I worry maybe people aren’t understanding why Rob wouldn’t bring it up. I am hoping I was able to project just how private Rob normally is about his parents. Just showing the pictures to someone else was a huge step of faith. Examining a mystery of her mother’s hair to Vivian… Rob’s just not there yet.
I like Noriko’s reintroduction. In some ways I worried Rob forgave her too quickly but, I don’t know, I feel Rob could feel the sincerity. Plus I just don’t think Rob is the type of guy… girl who can hold a grudge for too long. People with Rob’s personality, I have found, stay serene because they don’t tend to allow things to fester. Plus she brought back his comic.
Looking at something like other magical girl shows, the girls will always look exactly the same, no matter what, through the run of the show. They are all uniformly pretty in some way shape or form. I think it makes sense their magic has something to do with making them pretty and keeping them that way. I feel this is especially true if magic is emotion based. Let’s face it, if pretty people didn’t get stronger emotional responses commercials would have more ugly people in them. It’s why the girls all got enhanced by their transformations. I haven’t decided if Vivian’s reason for how the transformations work (ie: the Spirit Stick combing through their DNA for attractive women DNA) is completely true but it feels like a likely decision on the part of the Stick’s creators. Plus it also explains why Robin is drop dead gorgeous because his mother was quite the looker.
Then there is Vivian’s so-called “cheer-hack” used to make it so you don’t have to shower in the morning and can eat as unhealthy as you want. I personally feel that everyone’s response to having such a useful tool fits their characters a lot. Vivian abuses it for fun and profit. Angela views it as a potential abuse of power. Kara feels like she’s cheating because it’s something no one else can do. Mallory (and Vivian is totally right about her using it on game days) uses it to get a competitive edge but won’t own up to that as it’d bug her roommate. And Rob, pissed off at Fate, is totally going to abuse it too. Dealing with girly stuff, understandably, pisses her off. If she has a way out she’s going to take it.
I feel I really needed to make this chapter fun overall. The last chapter ended on a complete downer and I just didn’t want to keep it there. Overall I describe the story as TG-comedy with real reactions. Last chapter I felt was a lot more on the realistic reactions side. I wanted to get back to comedy if I could.
Lastly, check it out! Shadowmaster made us a TVTropes page! This is amazing! I made the jokes in the comments last chapter that a TVTropes page tells you that you’ve made it. I didn’t expect anyone to go out and do it! Thank you Shadowmaster! Thank you so much! You’re amazing! Now everyone go in and edit it! I’d do it myself but.. I don’t know… I feel it’d be cheating! And I don’t want to cheat.
Can’t wait to see your comments,