Robynne ducked into the Diaz Business Education Center and let out a long breath. All she had done was walk across campus, yet she was already worn out. She could jusot feel everyone’s eyes scanning her like she was luggage at an airport. Maybe she was being overdramatic, but she couldn’t shake the feeling in her bones that even now she was being watched. Someone was taking in her curves. She hated it.
Of course she wasn’t doing herself any favors by using a backpack. Robynne now realized why Kara had suggested they get her a bookbag or at least a backpack designed for a woman. Her old one, comfortable as it had been to carry her laptop in with all the padding it had, was now oversized, and the the straps dug into the sides of her new assets slightly.
To add insult to injury, with so much less musculature in her new body, she felt like she was dragging around her desktop rather than her laptop. All those years on the football team building up his body to stay on his feet after a punishing hit had been washed down the drain. Robynne felt like she could get knocked over by a stiff breeze while she lugged this backpack around.
Robynne sighed and went to fish her schedule out of her pocket… only her pocket wasn’t near her hips. Of course it wasn’t. She was wearing a skirt. Donut the angelcakeholes who kept voting for the stupid, outdated dress code! Robynne understood the need to dress like a professional; it had been one of the draws of SAU for her. But still having to wear skirts? Robynne sure wasn’t on board with that.
However, even though she’d never admit it out loud, she did find the skirt rather comfortable. Kara had been careful to make sure to get very loose skirts unlike what most girls wore on campus trying to get the attention of those around them. The skirt breathed easy and was… well… comfortable. Robynne didn’t plan on wearing them outside of school, but she was pleased to see that they weren’t a complete hassle if you didn’t make them a hassle.
Robynne reached into her business jacket, the only spot she had a pocket, and found her schedule. She was no longer in the same courses. Noriko had said it’d be too suspicious if the girl who came late suddenly just fit in nicely into all the classes of the boy who left early. Robynne felt that was a little paranoid, but the new schedule was lighter. Robynne was going to have to stick around during the summer semesters anyway given the responsibilities of her extra curricular vigilantism; so why not take a lighter load while having to deal with… whatever someone would call her life now?
Robynne found her room and yawned. The one thing she didn’t like about her new schedule was how early the classes were. It seemed the only sections that had available openings were the earlier sections. Robynne had always been lectured by her uncle on the importance of being an early riser, and, for the most part, she had listened and adopted the habits of a morning person. But even the most staunch morning person would agree eight o’clock was too early for a college course.
Robynne scanned the room. Again, she had shown up ten minutes too early. Vivian had teased Robynne while fixing her hair for her that she was far too eager to get to class. Truth be told, Robynne was eager to get to class, but only because she wanted to get her pick of the seats. Luckily for her, no one else was here. Who would voluntarily show up to a classroom at 7:50 when they’d miss nothing by showing up right at the bell?
Robynne yawned once more as she flipped the room’s lights on and walked in. She was careful to make sure her ponytail didn’t get caught in the door. However, that wasn’t as big of a concern as it was before. Vivian had fixed Robynne’s hair into what she had called an “messy illusion ponytail.” Robynne liked that it effectively shortened her hair and prevented it from getting in her face, but the style looked far too… stylish for Robynne’s tastes.
Vivian had countered, “This look stopped being en vogue four years ago.” The fact that Robynne was wearing a hairstyle that could have, at any point in time, been called “en vogue” didn’t exactly put her mind at ease. Still, Vivian had completed the look in five minutes and Robynne hadn’t been yanked to earth by any doors with malicious intents, so she wasn’t going to complain too much about the look. What she did complain about was Vivian forcing her to memorize each step of the styling. She had insisted it could come up in “girl-talk” sessions and that if she didn’t know how her own hair was styled, people would think she was a weirdo. What exactly were the odds Robynne would find her way into a girl-talk session with some random stranger?
Robynne rolled her eyes but found herself futzing with the tuft of hair at the crown of her head. It felt beyond weird to have this much hair this high on her head. She was sporting a ponytail. She really couldn’t get over that thought. It was just another small reminder that life was never going to be the same again.
Robynne squeezed her eyes shut, as if trying to wrench maudlin thoughts from her mind like water from a rag. She needed to focus on the task at hand: finding a seat where she could begin her second first day of college in peace.
With a quick scan of the room, Robynne found the perfect seat. It hugged the wall and was nearly behind the classroom’s entrance. The only people who’d see her would be people who turned around and who would have time for that when they’d be rushing in to beat the bell anyway? Plus the seat had access to a power outlet. What more could Robynne ask for?
Robynne took her seat and wrestled her laptop from her backpack. She tried to ignore how much heavier it felt. The first thing she did was connect to the campus wifi and check on the Mayhem Templar’s guild page. After a few moments, the page loaded and Robynne sighed. The header image of the guild page was the same as it always had been: a female dusk elf and female deviling posing suggestively while clad in fantasy-style armor that did a better job of showcasing curves than protecting organs.
This image hadn’t bothered Robert before. It had been drawn by one of the guildies a long time ago. Back when Robert had joined, it just seemed like standard fantasy cheesecake. But now that Robert was Robynne, now that she was the cheesecake… it felt… Robynne wasn’t even sure she knew the word. Invasive? Offensive? Demeaning? Each word felt too strong but also had a ring of accuracy to it.
She checked her mailbox and found a message from her best friend in the guild, Tantrall. He was wondering where Bluster had been the past few nights. A response that Robynne had drafted sat underneath his message but remained unsent. It was a message letting him know she was planning on dropping out of the guild.
The lie would be simple. Robert started college and was surprised by the workload. Because of this, Robert would choose to do the responsible thing and quit Aspect Realms while he got a better handle on the life change. Following that story, Robynne would then unfriend everyone she had ever had the pleasure of befriending, transfer Bluster to another server, and try to create a completely new circle of online friends.
Or maybe she’d just actually quit. Without people to voice chat with during the game, what was the point? Sure she liked PvP, but it had been the camaraderie she enjoyed the most. If her adventures with misogynistic morons in Corona Forge had been an indication, could she ever really experience that same level of camaraderie again, or would she forever need to keep her shields raised to protect herself from internet idiots?
Robynne wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead. Whether it was the temperature of the room or the stress of her guild dilemma, Robynne was beginning to feel too hot in her suit jacket. Sure it made her look older and more professional, but she couldn’t escape the fact that it was indeed hotter. It wasn’t like it was going to get more comfortable as the day went on. With a sigh, Robynne removed the suit jacket, folded it, and stuffed it into her backpack.
At least the yellow blouse clashed with her hair color. Or so Kara said it would. Frankly, the idea of colors complimenting your hair or eyes was completely lost to Robynne. Fashion in general was something she didn’t bother with. Something either looked good or it didn’t, was comfortable or wasn’t. Why overcomplicate the issue?
The classroom door opened, and Robynne sat up. It was likely the teacher walking in, and Robynne might need to explain the situation if he hadn’t gotten Ms. Kuna’s email about…
Instead of a teacher, a brunette girl wearing an SAU cheer uniform dragged herself through the door. She yawned and shook her head. “Too early for class.”
Robynne wondered why the cheerleaders always wore their uniforms on campus. Clearly they had some sort of exception from the dress code everyone else had, but, well, Robynne figured being that exposed couldn’t be comfortable. Especially in the mornings when it could get chilly. It had to be some sort of fashion thing. or maybe a requirement to…
Robynne took a closer look at the cheerleader’s tired face and she tensed up. Robynne knew this cheerleader. She had kicked a rock at this cheerleader. Actually, Robert had kicked a pebble at the white-haired cheerleader this cheerleader had been passing out fliers with. What was white hair called here again? Snowcapped? Either way, hopefully she didn’t remember that… that…
That some random guy that Robynne looked nothing like had kicked a rock at her? Robynne had no history here. She had a blank slate as far as rock kicking was concerned. Robynne relaxed. At least that incident wouldn’t come back to bite her in the angelcake.
The girl, to Robynne’s surprise, made a beeline for Robynne’s seat. The cheerleader stopped in her tracks though when she saw Robynne. Her fatigue seemed to immediately disappear. “Oh! I didn’t notice you here already! Like, I’m sorry!”
Robynne mentally groaned. This girl was an extrovert. Robynne tried to nonchalantly return to typing on her computer. “No worries.” It was too early to have to navigate a social situation.
The girl smiled with a genuine warmth. “I haven’t noticed you in class before! And I know I’d notice someone like you.”
Robynne did not like the direction that comment was going. “Had some stuff to take care of back home before I could come here. Catching up is going to be a pain in my… keester.”
“Love your accent!” The cheerleader said as she bounced into the seat next to Robynne. “You from out of town then?”
Robynne sighed. More comments on her accent. “My accent isn’t that thick,” Robynne whined.
The cheerleader shrugged with a smile, “No, but you’ve got just enough of one that it just, I don’t know, pops out. I think it’s really cute. Love your hair by the way! Like, do you dye it?”
“Wow!” The girl leaned back but held her hand out as if she wanted to touch Robynne’s locks. Thankfully, she resisted the urge. “I mean, seriously, wow! No fair! I’m so jealous! You girls back east aren’t supposed to get hair that vibrant! I mean, like, you’re the most scarlet scarlette I’ve ever seen! Plus it’s so thick and has so much bounce! Seriously, you are so gorgeous!”
Robynne took a deep breath. Where had this girl’s energy come from? She looked perfectly sluggish when she walked in; then she saw Robynne, and it was like a switch got flipped. Either way, Robynne knew it’d be extremely rude to ignore this girl’s compliments. She may not have wanted the compliments, but it’d be weird to not at least acknowledge them. “Well, thanks.”
But thanks wasn’t enough. That’s not what a normal person, a normal girl, would leave it at. A normal girl would need to add something. Robynne thought of the picture of her mother in her wallet with hair mysteriously as crimson as Robynne’s own. “I get it from my mother… I think.”
“Seriously,” the girl insisted, “You are, like, so beautiful! I mean, I’m sure you hear that all the time but…”
Robynne let an amused snort escape, “Didn’t used to.”
The cheerleader laughed and leaned forward as she waved off Robynne’s comment. “Yeah right.”
“It’s true,” Robynne insisted, “But, well, let’s just say college life has turned out a lot different than it was back at home.”
The cheerleader nodded enthusiastically and rolled her eyes, “Obnoxious college boys, am I right?”
Robynne thought of Cory and Eli staring at her chest when she first arrived at Vivian’s and Kara’s dorm. “Yeah. College boys can be a bit obvious about things.” That reminded her how grateful she was to be wearing a bra that fit. It limited the amount of staring and gave her back some help it sorely needed. She really hated that those were concerns she had now.
The cheerleader giggled and held her hand out. “I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’m Stacy Ambrose. And you are…?”
Robynne shook her hand. “Rober… I mean, sorry. Early morning. Robynne Darling.”
Stacy grinned. “A red robin! Oh what a cute name!”
“Yeah.” Robynne winced. She hadn’t thought about that angle to her name. “A red robin.”
Faking being a regular girl was proving more stressful than Robynne had anticipated. Or maybe it was just as stressful as she anticipated but had, instead, tried to ignore it. As Stacy fished a notebook out of her bookbag, Robynne hoped the conversation would die out. “I gotta say, I love your hairstyle too!” No dice. “How on earth do you get a ponytail to look that good? I mean that look is just cute!”
Robynne could practically feel Vivian laughing somewhere in the distance. Girl-talk about her hair. How did the little imp know this would happen? “Oh, uh, thanks. It’s just an illusion ponytail.” Robynne lifted her ponytail up slightly, revealing it wasn’t just one ponytail but three ponytails styled to fade into one another to give the illusion of a single group of hair. Vivian had suggested it because it shortened long hair much more than a regular ponytail. “You just tease out the top section a lot to get the ‘messy’ look then throw some hairspray on it to get it to hold. Takes five minutes.” Robynne still wasn’t sure what ‘teasing’ hair meant but Vivian had made her memorize that little spiel, and she’d be donuted if she put that memorization to waste.
Stacy nodded her head. “Wow. Illusion ponytail. Never heard of that before. If it’s that quick you’ll have to show me how sometime.” It was official: Robynne hated Vivian. Whatever this ponytail was it was far too girly and would have to be abandoned. “Well, at any rate, it looks great on you, Robynne. I bet you have to beat boys off with a stick, huh?”
Robynne leaned back in her chair and sighed, “Let’s hope not. That could get messy” Robynne didn’t like how the entire conversation was about her. She needed to reverse the field and knew just the way to do so. “Though I imagine you’re more of an expert at that than I am. Wearing the cheer uniform and all that.”
Stacy blushed slightly and looked down at herself. “Well, I won’t lie. It does feel good to wear it when everyone else has to abide by the dress code.” Stacy then shrugged, “still, it gets old wearing it so often.”
Robynne raised an eyebrow. “Is it mandatory to wear it?”
Stacy shook her head, “No. I mean, it is, but only on days when I’m on promotion duty.”
Stacy quirked her head to the side. “You know, like Peppers vs Promos?”
Robynne simply shrugged. What was this girl talking about? “No clue what you’re saying. Sorry.”
Stacy smacked her forehead. “Sorry. Of course you don’t know. You’re not a cheerleader. You just look like you’re one of us, so… yeah?”
Robynne shivered. “Sorry. Yeah, not a cheerleader.” Not a normal one anyway.
“Right. Of course… though you did some in high school, am I right?”
Robynne stuck her tongue out. “No.”
Stacy sat up. “Seriously?” Robynne couldn’t help but grin at the shocked amusement on her face. “Not at all?”
“Why would you think I did?”
“Well,” Stacy said with a conspiratory tone, “for one you’re gorgeous.”
Robynne rolled her eyes, “That’s profiling.”
“But seriously, you just have the look down. I mean, cute, short, plus toned arms for stunting girls and strong thighs for all the tumbling. Hallmarks of a cheerleader really. Not to mention the cute ponytail.”
“Thighs?” Robynne looked down and immediately turned red as her hair. She had been slouching. As she slouched, her skirt had slid up considerably, exposing a lot of leg. Well, it was no more leg than most college girls would expose, but for Robynne that was entirely too much. Kara had warned her about slouching in a skirt but it had completely skipped Robynne’s mind. Maybe skirts weren’t as comfortable as she originally surmised. She’d have to add that to the list of things to work on.
Robynne yanked the hem of her skirt down and Stacy giggled. “And here I thought you were doing that on purpose for when some boys finally walked in.”
Robynne cleared her throat. “You were saying something about Peppers vs Promos?”
Stacy grinned slyly and leaned back. “Yeah. So, like, the team is broken up into the Peppers and Promos. Peppers is short for Pep Squad. They are the gameday cheerleaders who actually go on the field and stuff. You have to be a sophomore or above to be one of them.” She then pointed to herself, “But freshmen and girls who don’t make Pep Squad become Promos, short for Promotion team. We’re the ones who go out and just do, uh, like, you know handing out fliers, letting people know about school events and games and such.”
“Oh, is that why I’ve seen so many cheerleaders around campus?” That didn’t sound right to Robynne. Shouldn’t the student union be the ones who promoted events? Why involve the cheerleaders? And why have a complicated split system?
“Uh huh. Especially with it being Clubs Week and all. Lots of promoting to do this week. Normally though, when it’s not at the beginning of the school year and there’s like a bazillion activities to promote I’d just be promoting on Thursdays. Regardless, I’m hoping to make Pepper next year so I can get on the field for gamedays.”
“Interesting system.” Robynne bit her thumbnail and racked her brain. Eli and Cory had mentioned something about cheerleaders being at some booth at Club Week. Had they been promoting that nerd circle club those two were raving about or had that been something else?
“You know,” Stacy said with a glimmer of hope in her eye, “if you wanted, I’m sure the cheer captain would have a place on the cheer roster for someone like you. If you’re interested, I mean. Promotion team is really fun. You get to meet a lot of people around campus, get invited to a lot of…”
Robynne froze. This idea needed to be nipped right in the bud. She did not want any concepts like this creeping into people’s heads. “Really not something I’m interested in.”
Stacy glanced down, trying to hide her disappointment. “Right. Of course. Duh. You didn’t do it in high school. Like, why would you want to do it here?”
Robynne sighed. This girl, unlike a lot of cheerleaders Robynne had known in high school, seemed to be sincere. Though the concept was foreign to Robynne, she could see this Stacy was someone who would legitimately be energized by meeting and making friends with new people. Plus, when Robert had kicked a rock, she had been nice to him unlike the other cheerleader. Maybe Robynne was a sap, but she didn’t want this girl to feel bad.
“So when you walked in you made a beeline for the back row. Did I steal your usual spot or something?”
Stacy waved Robynne off. “Oh no. I’m just farsighted. My choice is sit in the back or wear my glasses. It’s why I show up early to any of my classes. Got to make sure to grab seats on the back row before all the slackers can.”
Robynne smirked, “How do you know you don’t look better with glasses? I mean, if you’re that farsighted you’ve never seen yourself very well in a mirror without them.”
Stacy put her hand to her chest and laughed, “I’m farsighted. Not blind, girl.”
Robynne wanted to roll her eyes at being called “girl” but restrained herself. “Why not wear contacts?”
Stacy shivered, “I just get freaked out by anything touching my eyes. I mean… gyah! Like, just thinking about it gives me the heeby jeebies!”
Robynne nodded. “I hear you there.” She tried to imagine Stacy in glasses and it wasn’t like she instantly became ugly. She was a cheerleader for crying out loud. If anything it’d make her look better to anyone who had a thing for girls with glasses. “Though, personally, I think you’d look cute in glasses.”
Stacy blushed, “Oh stop.”
Robynne shrugged, “I’m not kidding. If anything it’d make your look more distinctive. I mean, how many cheerleaders wear glasses?”
Stacy giggled again, “Not exactly the best equipment if you’re hoping to be a tumbler like I am.”
“True enough,” Robynne conceded, “I’m just saying I wouldn’t be afraid to wear them in class. Unless you’re wearing some cartoonishly big frames, you’ll look just fine.” Robynne paused then added, “And even if you didn’t look fine, who the… I mean who cares? Right? You wear your clothes for your comfort and your confidence, not for everyone else.”
Stacy looked up at the ceiling and pursed her lips, “Huh. I never thought of it like that.”
Robynne smirked and turned back to her laptop, “I have a… unique perspective sometimes.”
Stacy grinned and rummaged through her bookbag. “Then again it’s easy to have that perspective when you are as stunning as you are.”
Robynne rolled her eyes, “Said the beautiful cheerleader with her midriff exposed.”
Stacy giggled and shrugged, “Yeah, but compared to you…”
Robynne cut her, “Please, next to you I’d look invisible.”
Stacy scoffed, “Like, you’re insane if you believe that.”
“I’m serious,” Robynne insisted, “Yeah, I’m a hot scarlette blah blah blah. But you have the cheer uniform. Trust me. Put two girls side by side and nine times out of ten the boys will prefer the cheerleader. That’s a fact.”
“Oh?” Stacy said with a smirk. “You got some sort of super power that lets you see into the mind of men?”
Despite herself, Robynne couldn’t help but crack a smile. She looked Stacy in the eye, “Trust me. I know how guys think.”
Robynne hurried out of her Intro to Business class while Stacy was distracted by some guy flirting with her. She had noticed a redheaded dude two rows in front of her who kept glancing back at her. Or Stacy maybe. Robynne couldn’t be sure. But she didn’t want to have to deal with some guy trying to chat her up.
Robynne made two quick turns down the winding hallways and checked to see if anyone was following her. Satisfied that, if she had been followed, she had lost the follower in question, she slowed down both her pace and breathing. She sighed and reached for her schedule only to remember that she had left that in her suit jacket that she had shoved into her backpack. Did they have to keep this building so hot?
She kept walking and fiddled with her backpack until she could both walk and reach her hand into it. This thing felt way too heavy. She was going to need to consider getting a locker on campus if she wanted to drag both her books and her laptop around.
After fumbling through her backpack for a while, she finally was able to find her suit jacket’s pocket and snatched her schedule from it. As she exited the Diaz Business Education Center, she made her way to the Checker Fine Arts Building. She had Introduction to Digital Media Arts in there which had sounded like the least objectionable way to fulfill her Fine Arts general education credit. She had planned on saving a lot of her general education classes for late in her college career to make the final semesters easier, but it was clear she needed to make the beginning easier than the end now.
Robynne could feel something bugging her. It was often her mind’s way of telling her she missed something important. She thought back to her conversation with Stacy. Something was very odd about that. But what was it? Stacy had seemed perfectly normal – for a cheerleader, anyway. In fact, she had seemed to be without any hint of guile. The entire time she had conversed with Robynne, the cheerleader had truly seemed interested in the new arrival to her business class.
So if it hadn’t been Stacy’s attitude, what had been so odd about about that conversation? Sure, Robynne had girl-talked about her hair, but she had actually been prepared for that. The fact that Vivian had been proven right within an hour of sending Robynne away annoyed the new young woman to no end. She’d have to lie about it later.
Had it been Stacy’s clothes? It was really weird that the cheerleaders had to wear their uniforms on campus; however, it made some sense now that Robynne knew they did all the promotions on campus. It still seemed like a poor organization plan to have two teams of cheerleaders to get anything promoted around campus. The student association should have their own group that did that. Still, Robynne hadn’t thought the policy was that silly when she was Robert and admiring the cheerleaders walking around in…
The uniforms. As Robert, he had taken guilty looks at the cheerleaders wearing them. As any healthy guy should. But this morning, during the entire conversation with Stacy, she hadn’t. Not in an admiring way. She had carried on an entire conversation with a cheerleader – an attractive young woman in a short skirt with her midriff born – and hadn’t let her eyes linger at all. More accurately, she hadn’t felt any desire to let her eyes linger. This was wrong. Her brain shouldn’t have been affected by the transformation. Robynne was still…
She groaned and chastised herself. No. That wasn’t right. Her mind wasn’t affected by the change but her brain was. Her brain was an organ the same as any other that had shifted with the transformation. Just as her bones and muscles had changed so had her brain. The brains of men and women worked differently; maybe not as differently as sitcoms would have viewers believe, but they produced different chemicals in different amounts and responded to different stimuli. In this case, the stimuli, a cheerleader, had produced a different chemical response.
The consequences of this observation had obvious, disturbing implications to Robynne. Implications she didn’t want to deal with right now. She needed to find something else to think about. She decided to focus on her “extra sense” and see what she could “see” with it.
As she made her way across the campus, she could feel eyes on her again. She could feel them in class too but here, moving with a crowd, the feeling was stronger. Added to that feeling of being watched was a mess of sensations that she barely could taste when she was Robert. The transformation had seemed to unlock more of her spirit…ness. Robynne really wasn’t sure what to call this other than empathokinetic sense, and that was a mouthful. Maybe Vivian had the right idea by calling it “magic” for shorthand.
Other than her Spirit Stick, which she could feel hiding in her backpack, she’d get occasional blips of… Robynne still wasn’t sure what to call it. She had described Day LaMode’s teleporting as a hum, but people didn’t hum. They didn’t do much of anything, but Robynne could feel as she moved through the crowd that some people definitely set off her extra sense. It wasn’t anything like when she was Spirit Guard Serenity where she essentially had a second sight, but some people, about one in fifteen by Robynne’s estimation, did radiate auras that she could feel… even if it didn’t make any logical sense to her.
The auras seemed to be on women more than men, though that could have been due to a sampling size issue; one crowd of college students wasn’t exactly a clinical study’s worth of people. And they weren’t auras of light but auras of… some other sense. One girl in a red blouse had an aura that tasted of cinnamon. A guy behind her with a stupid looking haircut had one that was the sound of rain falling on an aluminum roof. One blonde girl who passed Robynne even had an aura that looked like the smell of moldy cheese. Robynne hoped she didn’t have to get to know her; Robynne wasn’t sure if these auras meant anything about people’s personalities, but she decided moldy cheese was probably a bad sign.
Robynne knew, logically, she should be baffled by the synesthetic nature of these auras. Yet, somehow, her empathokinetic sense just made everything seem normal. There seemed to be no pattern that she could discern and…
Robynne reverie was broken by the sight of a guy with a green fauxhawk waving at her. He sat on a bench and held two cups of coffee in his hands. He stood up and casually strolled over to Robynne. “Good morning.”
Robynne glanced around. Was she supposed to know this guy? Was she being pranked? “Uh, hello?” Or was she maybe being hit on? Is that what this was? Was it normal to just give coffee to coeds as a way to get them to talk to you? Robynne had never heard of that angle before but she had heard of stranger approaches.
He handed her a cup before she knew what to do. The cups were emblazoned with the Sunbanks Coffee logo. Expensive. Not a good sign. He was trying to impress her. “Given how weird it’s been, I thought I’d get you something to start your day.”
Robynne blinked, “How weird it’s been?” Maybe she was wrong about him trying to impress her. Did this guy know something?
He shrugged, “You know. With… your first day back and all.” He glanced around furtively. “And your… uh… cheer session.”
Robynne narrowed her eyes further. “Do I know you?”
“Huh?” The green haired dude blinked twice before his eyes opened wide with realization. “Oh, sorry.” He held out his hand. “Nick Siekert. I’m one of the Twins. Sorry, I’ve dealt with your stuff so much over the weekend that I forgot you have no idea what I look like even though I know nearly everything about you.”
“The Twins?” Robynne said with relief, “Like the guys who, uh, work with Noriko?”
He grinned, “The very same.”
“You’re the one who did my driver’s licence, right?”
Nick grin widened more. It reminded Robynne of the type of grin a dog gave its owner after fetching a ball. “I was particularly proud of my work on that.”
Robynne shivered, “That picture weirded me the honey out! You’re too good at that.”
Nick frowned. “What does that mean? I thought it looked pretty good.”
“You put braces on me and somehow aged me down. It looked exactly like me if I had ever been sixteen years old in this body. What you did was pure black magic and unnatural and must be stopped.”
Nick’s grin returned. “Glad to hear it. You have no idea how long the braces took.”
“Then why go to all the trouble? A simple photo would have sufficed.”
Nick stood tall and held his hand to his chest as if he was some offended lady from a Jane Austin story. “Obviously you don’t understand art.”
“Oh great, you’re one of those artists,” Robynne snorted.
“Hey,” Nick said, “you can’t argue with results. That photo is a masterpiece of digital forgery. It’s, frankly, wasted on your driver’s licence.”
Robynne smirked. “And a humble artist, I see. So, none of this answers the question of why you’re stalking me and giving me coffee.”
Nick took a sip of his coffee. “I’m not stalking you.”
Robynne shrugged, “Eh, seems kind of stalker-ish.”
Nick did his best to put on a dignified snooty air, “I just thought I’d be nice and get you something before our class. I guess we see what that gets me.” With that he began walking towards the Checker Fine Arts Center.
Robynne blinked and hurried after him. She hated how she had to pick up the pace to keep up. She mentally cursed whatever god or spirit was responsible for reincarnating her into someone with short legs. “Our class?”
“Yeah,” Nick insisted while taking another sip. “I’m taking Intro to Digital Media Arts with you. Didn’t Ms. Kuna tell you about that?”
Robynne bit her thumbnail. After all that had happened that day, she had to admit that she started to tune out the wallaby woman the longer their life-planning session had dragged on. Robynne did seem to recall something about sharing a class with someone but couldn’t remember any specifics, “Probably? I don’t know. It was a very long day.”
“I hear that,” Nick said somberly. “But, hey, try that coffee.”
Robynne sniffed at the coffee concoction and was surprised that, along with the regular coffee scents, there were hints of vanilla and something else. It certainly had a sweeter fragrance than Robynne normally associated with coffee. Then again, she wasn’t that well versed with coffee smells. Her Uncle never drank it. Probably a result of being a dental hygienist. “Thanks. But, uh, is it a bad time to mention I’m not really a coffee person?”
Nick chuckled, “You’re starting college. You’re going to need coffee to pull all-nighters.”
Robynne snorted, “All-nighters are for people who can’t plan their studying habits properly.”
Nick laughed harder, “You sound like Angela.” Robynne scowled and took a sip. “Interesting that that shuts you up.”
The drink was very sweet. She detected coffee, vanilla, caramel, and a creamy taste. It was thankfully just warm enough to be soothing but not so hot it burned her mouth. “Start psychoanalyzing me at your own peril.”
Nick’s grin widened further. “Feisty too. Very interesting.”
Robynne sighed. “First Cory. Then Vivian. Now you.” She held up the coffee to change the subject. “What is this anyway?”
Nick took another gulp of coffee holding his finger up. He finished his drink with a satisfied gasp and tossed the cup in a nearby garbage can. “That was a Caramel Vanilla Soy Latte.”
“Just how you want to begin the day,” Robynne said between sips. “Drinking a milkshake or… well, wait, soy shake? Why soy?”
Nick shrugged. “It’s my big sister’s favorite flavor? I didn’t put the most thought into this. Given your background and your unique metabolism I should have just gotten a regular latte. Plus the soy is more expensive.”
“Dare I ask how much you spent on this? Skybanks Coffee isn’t cheap.”
Nick waved her off. “Don’t worry about it. My treat because life has thrown you a curveball.”
Robynne shivered as she mulled back over the fact she hadn’t given cheer uniform-clad Stacy a second glance. “You have no idea.” She took another sip, testing the taste of the latte further. She focused only on the flavor to distract her mind from more disturbing thoughts. Experimenting with her new taste buds was a good distraction. And this coffee seemed okay, but there was still too much coffee taste for Robynne. If she wanted a caramel vanilla milkshake she’d just have a caramel vanilla milkshake. Not a coffee flavored soy shake. And not before ten o’clock. “But thanks for the drink. I didn’t eat too much before class.”
As they walked with the crowd Robynne could feel less eyes on them. Going with the flow helped mask her some. Or maybe she didn’t really feel eyes on her but just felt like she felt eyes on her. It was difficult to know how much of this might be her empathokinetic sense and how much could be simple paranoia.
Nick opened the door to the Checker Fine Arts Center. He gestured to the doorway and made a slight but theatrical bow. “After you.”
Robynne’s shoulders slumped, “Oh please don’t start this chivalrous bullsugar with me. My ego doesn’t need anymore hits.”
“Hey,” Nick protested as he followed Robynne in. “I’ll have you know I’m as polite as hell! I’d open that door for anyone.”
Robynne squinted her eyes as she scanned the building. There were a lot of curios choices for construction materials and architecture in this building. The fact that the main stairway was in the direct center of the building, an inefficient use of space, was particularly strange. It also seemed to be comprised entirely of glass. Transparent steps seemed like a very bad idea. It seemed like a long, painful trip waiting to happen.
“Uh huh? Well, as a former guy to another, let me ask if you would have said, ‘After you,’ all fancy-like if you were opening it for a dude?” Robynne’s class should have been on this floor but she couldn’t see any classroom doors or hallways leading to other classrooms. It figured that the artsy farts would have to gussy up their building so much that it was impossible to navigate unless someone understood what post-modernism meant.
Nick stammered, “I, well, when you put it like that – shut up.”
Robynne smirked and glanced back at her schedule. Maybe she was remembering the room number wrong and it was on a different floor. “Eloquent.”
Nick shuffled ahead, seemingly knowing where he was going. Robynne followed and was surprised to find, as they walked further in , a hallway seemed to appear out of nowhere. From the entrance, it was completely obscured by various displays of art. Robynne mentally chastised whoever designed the place. “Look, no offense, but it’s hard to remember you weren’t always a girl from looking at you.”
Robynne groaned, “That’s a real morale booster there, Nick.”
Nick winced, “Yeah. That didn’t come out right. I mean, well, it came out exactly as I imagined it but I didn’t mean for it to be so… blunt.”
Robynne sighed, “Yeah. Well, I guess I just better get used to it. All the cheerleader I met in my previous class wanted to talk about was how gorgeous I was.”
“Did you show her your driver’s licence?”
Robynne stopped walking. “What? Why would I show her that?”
Nick shrugged, “I gave you braces and some acne in that picture. Good defense to show her that you’re normal?”
Robynne shook her head and said. “Acne? I can’t see any acne on that photo.”
Nick held his hands up tragically. “I know! You can only see it on the high def image on my computer. DMV cameras are too low rez to pick that up. See what I mean about it being a tragedy that my masterpiece is stuck on your driver’s licence?”
Robynne blinked. “Wait a minute. You already are a digital arts demigod. Why the honey are you taking Intro to Digital Media Arts?”
Nick shrugged. “Easy A?”
“Forget the easy A. Shouldn’t you be taking upper division arts classes for your degree?”
Nick laughed. “Get a degree in the arts? Are you serious? Talk about a dead end. My degree is Computer Science. From there I’ll get an masters degree in animation. With that I can try to get in with a studio or something. If that fails I can still provide for myself. I’m just taking this to fulfill one of my arts credits.”
Robynne smirked, “I guess we have more in common than I thought.”
Nick stopped at one of the classrooms in the hallway. He went to open the door before stopping. “You want me to open this one or would that be too chivalrous.”
“Oh for the love of…” Robynne huffed as she slid past him and walked through the door. “Don’t be such a smart angelcake.”
Nick chuckled and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “Angelcake? You already have a pet name for me? Robynne, I’ll have you know I have my sights set on someone else.”
Robynne glared. “You know what angelcake means, right?”
Nick nodded happily, “Of course I do.”
Robynne looked to the ceiling and held her hands up as if pleading to the heavens themselves. “Angelcakes! Angelcakes everywhere!”
Nick followed Robynne with a skip to his step. “We’re going to have such a fun semester together.”
And Stacy came back! As a discovery writer, I sometimes come up with concepts and ideas and don’t realize their usefulness until later. Stacy was one of those. She was initially just going to be a one-off character who gets a rock kicked at her and is useful for Cheerleader background. Then I got the idea of her befriending Robynne and, hey, fun!
I personally got a kick out of Robynne being all, “crap, she’s an extrovert.” I saw a comic somewhere on deviantart describing introverts as people who build up energy by being away from others and extroverts being energy vampires that suck it from other people. I sort of let that be Robynne’s thought process during that part of the story.
Regardless, I like Nick both petting the dog (showing his support by getting Robynne coffee) and kicking it (teasing Robynne). Though, to be fair, Robynne gives as much as she gets with other people. I like Robynne becoming a bit sensitive about door opening from those who know who she used to be. The thing she desperately wants is to just be treated the same as she once was. Strangely, making fun of her helps with that. But people are weird.
So my art building at college, I only had one class in but I found the building to be very confusing when it came to navigating the place. I was surprised to find out friends who went to other colleges had similar experiences. I’d always make jokes about non-Euclidean geometry and the place being built on top of a sleeping Old One so space and brains got warped. Anyone else have a similar experience?
Hope you enjoyed yourself,