Robynne carefully glared at the frat boy who looked like he might approach Lily and herself. Well, she didn’t know he was a frat boy, but he just had that look about him. The few times she had gone onto campus in her cheer uniform had taught her that the cheer uniform seemed to draw the frat boy types like moths to a flame.
Lily, who didn’t seem to mind the attention, smiled at the boy. Thankfully, Robynne’s glare seemed to convince him to keep his distance. That did little to dispirit Lily’s buoyant mood. She had an excited bounce to her step since Robynne explained the plan. “So, like, you’re saying we don’t have to promote?”
Robynne had to be careful with her words. Part of her deal with Cammy was that she didn’t let her no-promotions clause leak out to the rest of the squad. “I’m just saying we are supposed to promote the Sock Hop Society, which has plenty of members. And we were assigned to do it outside of the Griever Museum which isn’t even technically on campus. No one will be there. And no cheerleaders will be that far away from campus proper. So… should we just happen to cut out… none of the officers would have to know.”
Lily tugged at her pure-white hair, running her hands nervously down the length. “I… what if Cammy finds out?”
Robynne sighed. As with all other cheerleaders, what Cammy wanted weighed heavily on Lily’s mind. Robynne reached out with her extra sense and could feel the mix of nervous tension and excitement bubbling inside Lily. Robynne could also feel that sticky, wine-like aftertaste that seemed stuck on anyone who spent too much time around Cammy. Well, Robynne had never actually tasted wine. She wouldn’t dare. However, she had smelled it. It was close enough.
“Cammy won’t find out as long as we both keep our mouths shut and don’t do anything too obvious. And if she does find out, just throw me under the bus and say I pressured you to skip out.”
Lily stopped walking. “Wait, seriously?”
“Yeah. Really,” Robynne said in an attempt to project confidence. “I mean, it is the truth, right?”
“And you’re not scared of Cammy being mad at you?” The snowcapped cheerleader asked with a mix of disbelief and awe.
Robynne just shrugged casually. “I mean, what’s the worst she could do? Kick me off of cheer? I wouldn’t be too broken up about that.”
Lily pursed her lips and tapped her manicured finger to her chin. “Wow. Stacy wasn’t kidding about you.”
Wait… Stacy had spoken about Robynne to Lily? “I… wasn’t kidding what?”
“She said that you don’t really care about cheer or Cammy. She also said you were a pistol but, like, I’m not even sure what that means. I swear, there are times that I would guess Stacy was sixty years old with some of the things she says.”
“You have a point there,” Robynne conceded with a smirk.
“You truly are a woman of mystery.” Lily put her hands behind her back, hopped in front of Robynne with a twist and started walking backwards as she faced the scarlette directly. “So why are you a part of Cheer Squad then, anyway? I mean, like, don’t take this the wrong way but, while you totes look like a cheerleader you don’t seem to like it at all. Is it true that you, like, didn’t do cheer in high school?”
As if Robynne needed another reminder that she looked like a cheerleader. Regardless, she didn’t want to give away too much. Vivian had stressed it was important to stay vague. “I only have a little bit of cheer experience, it’s true.” She thought back to her fight with Day LaMode and couldn’t help but chuckle. “But I did take ballet up until a year ago. And Vivian and some other friends are helping me with the tumbling. I think I’ll pick it up pretty well. They’re great teachers.”
Truth be told, Vivian had very little to do with her tumbling training. That had mostly been done by Angela with some help from Noriko. Angela was actually a really good teacher. It was clear that cheerleading had been a big part of her life. How many other girls had Angela helped with their tumbling throughout middle and high school?
Noriko’s help however was more combat focused. She helped Robynne learn how to use her momentum to her advantage. The lessons had even started touching into some parkour-like moves Robynne had seen Noriko employ. The young ninja had felt training Robynne could benefit her in battles to come, though Robynne was somewhat worried that the Shrine Maiden’s own battle training would dwarf anything Robynne could learn. In her fight with Day LaMode, she had felt the actions come naturally and those included a lot of jumping, flipping, tumbling, and acrobatics… silently… in high heels. There was a chance that the extra, non-cheer tumbling lessons with Noriko were sort of moot when compared to however many years the Shrine Maiden practiced.
There was one other problem with training with Noriko. Robynne’s breasts tended to hurt after training with Noriko. Even with a sports bra on, Robynne had what Noriko tactfully called a “recoil issue.” Though the roommates were roughly the same height and weight, their centers of mass were widely different. This meant that as Robynne mimicked Noriko, her chest would bounce more and cause no shortage of soreness. It hadn’t helped that Noriko proclaimed, “Such a prominent chest hinders movement and draws attention. That is is less than ideal for a ninja’s work.” As if her friend was pointing out something Robynne didn’t already know. In her defense, the scarlette knew Noriko was simply trying to state facts, but it didn’t make her chest or ego any less sore.
“I wasn’t, like, worried about the tumbling,” Lily giggled. “I was more interested in why you joined if you had no experience, or, like care for cheerleading.”
Robynne shrugged. “Cammy recruited me pretty hard.”
Lily squinted her eyes. “Huh. Yeah. Stacy had mentioned something about that. Like, something about you and that nerd club thing?”
Donut. Just how much did Stacy talk about Robynne to other girls? Vivian had, through working the rumor mill and making friends with, it seemed to Robynne, half of the entire squad, said there was a lot of curiosity about the late addition to the Cheer Squad. Robynne had protested that she was no newer than Vivian but that had only drawn laughs from her diminutive friend; Robynne was hotter and more mysterious. This was quickly followed by a reminder that Vivian had warned Robynne that this was a likely outcome of Robynne joining. “You and Stacy seem to talk a lot about me.”
Lily stopped walking altogether. Robynne nearly fell over as she tried to stop. “You’re surprised we talk about you? Oh, honey, you really are new to cheer.”
Robynne didn’t like how obvious this was. “Well,” Robynne explained, searching for an explanation, “It’s more that I’m just new to big city cheerleading. Like, my town is super small. We didn’t have more than a dozen cheerleaders.”
Lily nodded her head, seemingly buying this explanation. Using the small-town excuse had seemed to work a lot. Still, Robynne checked her other sense: no mistrust seemed to be lurking in Lily’s faint aura. Robynne had tested the limits of her empathokinetic sense in the previous two weeks. She wasn’t sure if it could act as a true lie detector, but she could, with most people, get a feel for if they didn’t trust her. Distrust “tasted” a bit like an itch she couldn’t scratch.
She’d never make any sense of empathokinesis.
“Well, yeah, I suppose that would really cut back on being out of the loop.” The Loop. Vivian had stressed, and Noriko had agreed with more vigor than Robynne would have predicted, the fact that if this was going to work, Robynne was going to have to get involved in some of this rumor trading. She didn’t like that idea. That involved conversations that she didn’t particularly enjoy. Then again, a lot of things in her life involved things she didn’t enjoy, like cheer uniforms with exposed midriffs and Recoil Issues.
Still, if they were eventually going to unravel the mystery of Cammy’s plans, they’d need more information. Vivian’s prying alone hadn’t yielded much results in two weeks. She had learned a lot of gossip within the cheer group, mind you, but nothing concrete about Cammy. But hadn’t Vivian mentioned that Lily was really plugged into the Loop? “Yeah. Maybe you’re right.” Robynne tried to sound a little less sure of herself than usual. She put her hands behind her the same way Lily did when she walked and tried to channel a little more Stacy-like vocabulary. Lily seemed to like Stacy, right? “Like, um, so what is being said about me and stuff? I’m totally new to this big team concept.”
Lily stood up straight and practically squealed with excitement. “Well, like, word on the street is that youuuu have yourself a beau. No surprise really, but, like, I didn’t take you for the groupie type.”
“Groupie type?” Robynne already regretted everything. “What does that mean?”
“You knooooow,” Lily teased as she looked down at Robynne. Gummi how Robynne hated having to look up at everyone. Of all the physical changes, being short was the most annoying. She wasn’t sure what was going to get sore first, her neck or her back.
Robynne frowned. Did she? Or was this a test? A test to see what Robynne would give up? Rumors and gossip were like a currency unto themselves. It struck Robynne that it, in a way, was no different than the various factions of Aspect Realms. Some weren’t interested in your gold but had their own currencies of ancient artifacts, magical runes, or elemental power.
But what did Robynne have to give? And what was Lily on about this groupie thing? “I’m not exactly sure I do.” Robynne reminded herself to try to sound more like Stacy to see if that would somehow trick Lily into divulging something. “Like, I do enjoy some classic rock but I’m definitely no groupie. And I don’t know any boys who…”
Sugar. Eli had warned Robynne about Sanvi spying on the electronics delivery. Eli said Dale answered the door. Sanvi would have assumed Dale was the guy Robynne had entrusted with the electronics, not the more average looking Cory and Eli. This would have leaked to Cammy and her gossipmonger, Tanya. Tanya would have done some research to figure out who Dale was. Then Tanya would have strategically planted this idea of Robynne and Dale as an item in certain girls’ minds, girls like Lily, and would be waiting to see if those plants bore any fruit.
What was the play here? Play dumb? Deny it? Be coy about it and leave things in the air? Confirm it to throw Tanya off the scent? Robynne would much rather face a Platicore -created abomination than this problem. Why weren’t there more things she could stab?
“You totally are confusing me, Lily. I honestly have no idea what you’re on about.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Oh come on. I heard from the grapevine that you were visiting the dorm of the lead singer of the Free Unsecured Network.”
Robynne blinked. Then she affected her best giggle. “Oh, wow, like, not sure how that got out but…”
“I knew it!” Lily yelled with a playful shove. “You are a groupie! I bet you doll yourself up for his concerts and…”
Robynne didn’t mean to, but she gagged a little at that though. “Tap the breaks, speed demon. I barely met the guy a few weeks ago. He’s just my friends’ roommate. I am not dating Dale Bridges.”
Lily nodded her head. “So then, like, you’re dating one of his roommates?”
Robynne shivered. The thought of dating Eli and Cory was… disturbing. “No, they are actually dating my roommates.”
“Oh, so, like, that Cory guy that Vivian’s been hanging out with, they are a thing? And he lives with your potential boyfriend?”
Robynne sighed, “I repeat, I’m not interested in Dale at all.”
“How can you not be even a little bit interested in a hunk like that! He’s the total package! Tall, muscular, that voice… he plays a guitar. What more could you want?”
“I can’t help but notice you didn’t list off any of his personality traits. Or that you sound like much more of a groupie talking about him like that.”
“Personality is never what gets anyone, boy or girl, interested,” Lily chided. “It all starts with a physical attraction. Come on, level with me. Like, why aren’t you interested? He smell bad or something?”
“I just… I’m too busy for dating right now.”
Lily shook her head. “Come on, girl! Too busy for dating? There is no such thing! I’m willing to bet two-thirds of campus would fight to the death for the chance to date you!”
Robynne decided to ignore the obvious joke that even girls wanted to date her. “I’m a Mechanical Engineering major, Lily. Free time isn’t exactly a common resource that I have. Especially, like, with all this cheer stuff too.”
“Psh, we go out promoting once a week and you are skipping it. I’m totally not buying this too busy business. What is it really? You have a bad history with rock stars or something?”
Robynne rolled her eyes. “First off, I think ‘rock star’ is a bit of an exaggeration. The dude has a garage band.”
Lily wagged her finger at Robynne. “A very talented garage band. And Dale has amazing pipes. I think they could be going places. You may not realize it since you’re from back east, but Kessia City has a pretty happening music scene. Like, Avarice on Ice, The Bakery on Seventh, and Middle-Management Arms Race all three were bands here with students here at SAU at one time.”
“Really? I kind of like Middle-Management Arms Race. I only know that one hit The Bakery on Seventh had. What was it called again?”
“Phone Jack! That’s it. Yeah. But I didn’t know they were all from here.”
“Oh yeah. That’s where The Bakery on Seventh gets their name. They named themselves after the Robertson’s Bakery over on, you guessed it, 7th Street. It’s been open for, like, I don’t know, a hundred years or something. I went there once. I was told their donuts were some super amazing secret family recipe or something.”
“That’s cool.” The girls started down a set of stairs on the far east side of campus. Once downhill they’d be surrounded by the various condos and frat and sorority houses that dotted the east side. Then it’d be a quick walk to the Griever Museum. Part of Robynne was curious to see this building even if she had no intention of actually promoting in front of it. How could they have an entire museum this far off campus and have not heard of it? “So did you try the donuts then?”
“Oh yeah. Sure. They were pretty good. I mean, not as good as people say they are but… really good. Good enough to name a band after at least.”
“Apparently so,” Robynne conceded with a chuckle, though she wasn’t so much laughing at Lily’s joke but at the strangeness of her current situation. How she was walking here with Lily and having a nice conversation. It wasn’t three weeks ago that Lily had been huffing at Robert for accidentally kicking a rock at her. How would the situation be different if she knew that Robynne was Robert? Well, obviously it’d be different as she’d know Robynne had somehow magically changed genders but… well it was just one of those weird situations her current life brought her.
“But, yeah,” Lily continued, “I actually saw Avarice on Ice a few times before they hit it big. They played at the Acoustic Lounge a few times when I was, oh, I don’t know, sixteen maybe? I’m pretty sure it was my junior year. Anyway, like, they were really good. Oh, the Acoustic Lounge is where I saw your boy Dale play too.”
“Again,” Robynne said through gritted teeth, “he’s not my boy. He’s not my anything other than my friends’ roommate.” And would have been her roommate if literal monsters hadn’t entered her life. But Lily didn’t need to know that. “How were you getting into clubs anyway at sixteen?”
Lily giggled. “Acoustic Lounge isn’t really a club, per se. It styles itself as a, oh what’s the term they use? Music gallery? I mean, there is a bar there but, I’m told, the selection is pretty plain and they ID people. You try to get drinks there and you’re underage, they throw you out and you can’t come back. The guys who own it are, like, super-hipster types who are all about the music. People go there to hear the bands, not to get lit.”
“That’s good to hear, I guess.”
“But seriously. No interest in Dale, at all?”
“I mean, I’m not sure I can make this any more clear for you Lily.”
Lily giggled. “That still makes no sense to me. He’s a total hottie! And, I’m telling you, his band is going places. Best to get in on this while it’s still on the ground floor. Lot of potential for growth.”
“Are you a cheerleader or a financial planner? They are a band, not a retirement fund.”
“If they hit it big they could be a retirement fund,” Lily said with the same annoying hip-bumping Vivian liked to do. Just how common was this stupid tradition? Did all cheerleaders do it? Robynne couldn’t seen Angela doing it. “I just can’t see why you have no interest in Dale Bridges. Why aren’t you interested in him?”
“Again,” Robynne reiterated, “I’m just not interested in dating anyone right now.”
Lily shook her head. “And I just don’t get that. Everyone knows artists make the best lovers.” Lily gave a playful wink.
“I wouldn’t know,” Robynne sighed. “Though the way you’re going on about him do you want me to introduce you to Dale or something? Or Vivian could as well if you wanted.”
Lily stopped walking. Robynne really hated how Lily kept doing that whenever Robynne surprised her. They were nearly down the long flight of stairs. They’d get to the museum faster if they’d just quit all these pauses. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. Seriously. Why wouldn’t I?” Robynne pursed her lips. “You really don’t believe I have no interest in Dale, do you?”
“I…” Lily blushed and gave a nervous giggle. “Well, I guess I just thought you were being coy or hard to get or something.”
“Hard to get? Lily, I… no, I’m not playing hard to get. I’m not trying to secretly hide some crush. This isn’t some game for me.” Robynne could feel herself starting to feel angry. She pushed the anger down. This was important. She knew it was important but she wasn’t sure why. But there was definitely something here, in this conversation, that meant something. “What makes you think that I might be playing games?”
Lily swallowed hard. “Oh… you know.”
Robynne waited for Lily to clarify. When she didn’t, Robynne stopped walking as well. “Lily, I really don’t know. Look, I’m not used to conversations like this.” Robynne decided to try a different angle. “Truth be told, I sort of had a hard time making friends with girls growing up. Most of my friends were guys. So if you think something is obvious about this conversation that I’m missing, I’d really appreciate you spelling it out for me.”
Lily bit her bottom lip. “You didn’t have a lot of girlfriends?”
Robynne looked at the ground. “Just one, really.”
“Why? Like, was it because of how gorgeous you are?”
“Uh, well, I suppose you’d have to ask them… though that could possibly be a reason. Maybe.” She had mentioned Robynne’s attractiveness. Was that part of this?
“Well, like, I’m sorry. I guess… I guess I just always assumed you were, like, the queen bee of your school or something.”
Robynne gave an amused snort. “Yeah, definitely not true. Why did you think I was?”
“Well… Robynne, like… look at you! My god, you look like every queen bee in teenage movies. I mean, you know, if you had blonde hair.”
“I see… so… because I look this way, you feel like I’m more likely to, what, play games with boys or something like that?”
Lily opened her mouth to say something but only stammers came out. After a few moments she sighed. “Well, it sounds so stupid when you, you know, say it out loud. I mean, I don’t know, I wasn’t actively thinking of it like that. Just sort of, I guess, instincts.”
“So, it’s common for pretty girls to play games with boys? Again, like, I’m just trying to understand all the dynamics here.”
“Dynamics?” Lily giggled. “My god, you really aren’t faking that engineering stuff.”
“Faking it? Lily, what do you mean? Are girls saying I’m lying about my major?”
Lily rested her knuckle on her chin. She squinted at Robynne the same way his Uncle would stare at a sudoku puzzle. “Okay, normally I don’t spill the beans like this but, like, I think you’re really being serious about all this.”
“Of course I’m being serious about this,” Robynne exclaimed. “Why would I be making this stuff up?”
Lily shrugged. “I’ve seen some girls try to pretend to be clueless before as a way to get gossip. It’s a great way to become a go-between for lots of parties. Gets you accepted in a variety of social circles. But after dealing with you today, I think you are serious about this. You definitely don’t play dumb well. I mean, claiming to be a Mechanical Engineer major is a poor plan if you’re trying to come off as some clueless airhead.”
“So… some of the other cheerleaders think I’m faking my major?”
“Well, I mean, you haven’t exactly gone out of your way to socialize. And you’re hot. Super hot. Smokin’ hot even. Only Cammy and maaaaybe Jodi are better looking than you are. And girls like to gossip. If a mysterious, super hot girl from a small town that no one knows joins the Promotion Squad in the middle of the school year, you can be damn sure that girls will start to talk. And when information is scarce, we’ll naturally use on the spot judgements to fill in the gaps.”
“I don’t think there is a need for anyone to start trying to rank how hot I am.”
Lily laughed. “Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah, that seals it. You really are serious about having no girlfriends growing up.”
“What’s so funny about that?”
“Honey,” Lily said in a tone that sounded just a bit too condescending to Robynne’s liking, “Girls are always comparing themselves to one another. Always. And because of how gorgeous you are, girls are naturally going to be jealous and start making up reasons to dislike you subconsciously.”
This was bad. “Wait, so… what exactly are people filling the gaps in with?”
“Well,” Lily said, clearly measuring her words. “A lot of girls, mostly those who talk to Stacy, who seems to know you the best, sort of just assumed you look down on us a bit and that’s why you weren’t hanging with us.” Before Robynne could say anything Lily through her hands up, “I mean, you dispelled that idea from me in the first two minutes of us being together but, well, you can’t blame them for thinking you might be a bit stuck up.”
Holy sugar! This was bad. “I… and these were the girls who were talking to Stacy? How they honey they get that impression from Stacy?”
Lily gave a guilty sigh, “Look, everyone likes Stacy because she’s the nicest person in the world but she has a reputation for being a bit naive. So girls naturally sort of tend to think of her as maybe not having the real picture of you. And Vivian’s your roommate so when she defends you not showing up to hang with us everyone sort of assumes she’s just picking up for you because she has to deal with you.”
Robynne thought back to last Saturday. Stacy had invited Vivian and Robynne to go hang out at some other cheerleader’s apartment to do… well, frankly, Robynne couldn’t remember what they had planned on doing. She had sort of tuned out because she had already made plans to lead a new batch of SFEER Aspect Realms players in PvP. That apparently had been a mistake. “I… but they know nothing about me… I had no idea the gossip could get this out of control.”
“Oh yeah. Cheer gossip is like regular gossip on steroids,” Lily giggled. “Word of warning, Robynne, the rumor mill is always turning, even if you decide to not deal with it. You don’t like what’s being said, you have to take control of the narrative.”
“Okay, I mean, good point. But you said that’s what the girls who talk to Stacy are saying. What are the girls who don’t talk to Stacy saying?”
“Well, there’s that rumor going around about you and the lead singer of Free Unsecured Network going around. Sorry I believed it. I guess, well, look, the only girls I’ve ever seen that are prettier than you are on TV, the movies, magazine covers, or Cammy. Girls like that tend to get guys like Dale. But they also don’t tend to be tied down. I mean, I think Cammy is juggling about three guys right now…”
Robynne nodded. Vivian had never mentioned that little tidbit about Cammy juggling guys. That might be useful a useful thread to pull on later. “Okay… so because I look… similar, people assumed I might be the same.”
“I mean, yeah, I think so. Though I don’t think that bit is really conscious. I mean, like, I didn’t really think of it like that. Just my assumption. Also I can’t figure out why you aren’t interested in a guy as sexy as this Dale. Actually, that brings me to one of the other rumors about you…”
“I have a feeling I’m not going to like this rumor.”
“I mean, look, it’s cool if you like girls. I mean, we’re super open so you don’t need to…”
“I’m not a lesbian,” Robynne said firmly. How she should approach this issue was something the entire team, Cory and Eli included, had debated. True, stating she was a lesbian would at least get some pressure off of her to show any affection towards guys, but there was the problem that the Cheer team was, in fact, quite open. They had two lesbians already. Angela was convinced they were token, but they fit into the social structure all the same. And knowing how eager the cheerleaders seemed to be to set one another up on dates, it would likely result in an even more awkward conversation when Robynne was approached by someone who actually was a lesbian.
There was also the issue that, Robynne was fairly certain, she was physically attracted to guys and not girls. She had been living with other girls for about a month now and she hadn’t felt attracted to them. And, the females she was running around with were quite the collection of specimens so she didn’t really have the excuse that none of them were “her type”. After all, as Robert, she had found Angela to be very stunning. Angela was still as stunning as ever, but the magnetic draw of her beauty was gone, and had been since her transformation.
Throw on top of that the fact that she had definitely felt an attraction to Dale and Fretribution, both with very pretty eyes, and Robynne really couldn’t deny that her biochemical responses had been just as inverted as the rest of her gender. It was a very strange thing to have that change. It was like she had enjoyed chocolate her entire life and gagged on brussel sprouts, only for one day to suddenly find herself unable to choke down chocolate and suddenly brussel sprouts taste divine. Or maybe she should have reversed the metaphor, given Vivian’s choco-phagial therapy experiments.
Robynne also had to admit part of her rush to avoid any rumors about her romantic leanings was an effort to avoid being known as, as Cory had ever-so-delicately put it, “the smokin’ hot lesbian cheerleader with an accent.” Robynne had a hard enough time mentally coping with the fact that fratboys could be fantasizing about her. She did not want to put that kind of fuel on the fire.
“I didn’t think you were. Some of the other girls were pretty convinced but I didn’t think so.”
The girls hit the bottom of the staircase. More students glanced their way as they crossed the road at the bottom of the hill but fortunately none stopped and stared the way the fratboy from before had. And though Robynne really didn’t want the answer, her curiosity as to the nature of Lily’s comment got the better of her. “Okay, I’ll bite. What convinced you of that?”
“Hmm? Oh, just the way you stare at some guys. I can tell you have your likes and dislikes for sure. It’s why I thought you totally had a thing for Dale.”
Robynne would have spit out her drink had she been sipping anything. “I do not stare at boys.”
“Pfft, whatever. I saw you eyeing up that pair of guys when we rounded the Parker Center. They looked like swimmers to me. What do you think?”
“I wasn’t staring at anyone,” Robynne insisted. She wouldn’t… or would she? She did remember the pair Lily was talking about. Was that because she had been staring? As Robert, she had idly stared at girls before. It wasn’t a lecherous thing, just… just the eyes lingering on something they wanted to. Could that be happening in the reverse now?
Well, if it was happening she didn’t have to admit to it.
“Oh come on, Robynne! Even if you’re not looking to buy anything there’s nothing wrong about window shopping.”
“I… don’t think I fully get your metaphor.”
“Well, like, you said you weren’t looking to date anyone. I mean, I don’t get why, but if you’re not looking to date anyone right now you can still, like, appreciate a fine specimen. Dating is buying, looking is window shopping. It totally makes sense.”
Robynne nodded. “Oh, okay, I guess I can see where you’re going with that now.”
“So why aren’t you looking to date anyone right now? Coming off of a messy breakup or something like that?”
“Uhhh,” Robynne thought about Brook. “Something like that. Sure.” Robynne reconsidered. No. That wasn’t right to lay the blame of this on Brook. Even if their breakup had been messy, it was over a year ago. And cheerleaders would pry for details if they could get them. This type of drama was perfect for what they enjoyed. She needed to deflect the attention away from that. “But mostly it’s just because I’m a freshman. I just want to focus on my courses and having fun.”
Lily gave a suggestive smile. “Boys are a lot of fun if you ask me.”
Robynne waved her off. “That type of fun comes with complications. That’s exactly the type of drama I want to avoid for now. I’m not looking to form relationships right now. Just friendships and having fun.”
Lily shrugged like she was dealing with a lost cause. “If you say so.”
The duo rounded the corner of the street and found what looked to be a moderately-sized house with a wrought-iron fence around it. A stone sign sat on the front lawn and read, “The Tanner Griever Museum of Peoples and Cultures.”
Lily scrunched her face. “We were supposed to promote outside of this? Why would anyone come here? What does a museum of peoples and cultures even have inside? And, like, how can an old house be a museum?”
“Beats me.” Robynne scrunched her face as she reexamined the building. Lily was right. This was an older house, maybe built twenty years or so before her parents even attended SAU. “Maybe some family owned the house and when they died they left it to the school or something in their will.”
Lily scratched at the back of her pure white hair. “And put in, like, some condition it had to be a museum for… whatever Peoples and Cultures is? Like, wouldn’t that just be a history museum?”
“People put weird stipulations in their wills all the time. I’ll bet this Tanner Griever guy is the one who owned the house though.”
Lily looked around and started pointing out a few frat and sorority houses. “It’s just so strange. I mean, we’re in the middle of the frathouse neighborhood and condo row. What a strange place to put this. I can’t imagine anyone ever visits it.”
“I bet that’s a cushy job,” Robynne chuckled… well, giggled but Robynne was starting to get over the fact that her new voice’s chuckles were just going to sound like giggles now. “Just manning the house during the museum hours while no one visits? Easy paycheck right?”
“Can’t pay much.”
“Yeah, but it’d be great for getting homework done.”
Lily glanced around once more. “So we’re really not going to promote?”
Robynne gave a wink, trying to channel the more confident and cheerleader-like mannerisms of Vivian to try and make Lily feel more comfortable with the thought. “Hey, I’m not telling if you ain’t.”
Lily smirked. “I should get paired up with you more often. The conversation is interesting and the work… easy.”
Robynne, still trying to channel Vivian’s showmanship, held her hands out demonstrably. “A few of the many benefits of being my friend.”
“We really should hang out some more. You coming to the Tau Sigma Tau party on Friday?”
Robynne groaned internally. Cammy had pestered her about showing up to that. It was the rare week where the football team didn’t have a game to play so, of course, there had to be a big party sponsored by some frat. Robynne knew there would be a lot of drinking, something she detested for obvious reasons. She had no interest in showing up to some drunkfest and get hit on by inebriated fratboys.
However, she had also blown off several invitations to hang out with other cheerleaders. This, apparently, was fueling the rumor mill. “I don’t know,” Robynne answered honestly. “I’m not really big into frat-parties. I don’t like cramped quarters. Or drinking.”
“Oh come on! It’ll be a blast. It’ll be nice to actually get to hang out with you instead of, well, you know, just talk when we’re assigned to be together. I thought you were all about the freshman experience or whatever. Plus, hey, lots of football players. I don’t care what you say, I saw you, on multiple occasions, eyeing up the buffer guys. I think you have a thing for athletes.”
“I don’t have a thing for athletes,” Robynne insisted.
“If you say so.” Clearly Lily wasn’t convinced. “So what is your type then?”
“Like, what type of guys do you normally go for? Every girl has a type.”
That definitely was not a question Robynne knew the answer to or was ready to find out. She needed to deflect this question hard. “Not really sure that I have a type yet. Remember, I come from a pretty small town. It’s not like I had a huge variety to pick from.”
“Well, like, you gotta have at least something you really like on a guy. Cute ass? Strong arms? Tight pecs? You seemed to like pecs on those swimmers.”
Robynne sighed, “I’m not sure you can say with any reasonable authority that they were swimmers.”
“So you were eyeing them up! I knew it! You stalker!” Lily giggled accusatorily.
Robynne really wanted the conversation to end. She had a feeling it wouldn’t until she gave Lily something. “If you absolutely must know, I do like a pair of pretty eyes.” Robynne had to nearly choke out those last two words out. It was perfectly normal for an eighteen year old girl to talk about a guy’s cute eyes; however nearly two decades of being a guy had conditioned her to not say anything that could tarnish her unblemished record of manliness. Even when she was baring her midriff in a cheer uniform, it was difficult to ignore all that conditioning.
“Eyes? Really? Those weren’t their eyes you were staring at earlier.”
Robynne shrugged. “Well, I’m telling you, a pair of pretty eyes just do it for me.” With that question answered, she quickly changed subjects. “Regardless, I have a pile of homework to finish and some gaming I want to do before I go to bed tonight.”
“Homework and gaming? Wow. You really are a nerd, aren’t you?”
Robynne stood up straight as she backed away. “What can I say? I like subverting expectations.”
Lily chuckled and shook her head. “Well you certainly do that. So will I see you at the party Friday?”
Robynne needed to talk this over with Vivian and Angela. There was no way she’d step into that kind of viper’s nest without some form of consultation or strategy. “Put me down for a definite maybe.”
I wanted to put more into this chapter but the conversation between Lily and Robynne sort of kept ballooning out and I was having too much fun writing it. Rather than delay the chapter to get the other stuff in I thought I’d end it here and just get the other stuff out quicker. As promised there WILL be another chapter before the end of the year. I promise.
Lily is an interesting dialogue partner for Robynne because she’s a little self-absorbed but not in a mean way the way Cammy is. She’s just clearly someone who is a little unintentionally selfish. But she’s also curious. She likes gossip, something Robynne hates, but she’s not gossiping to hurt anyone. She’s just nosy. And that nosiness can help Robynne out. I like the idea of Robynne making friends with someone a little more dangerous than Stacy (who is well-connected, but somewhat naïve). It’s good practice for Robynne to learn how to play the give-and-take game that gossip takes.
My experience with cheerleaders and gossip comes from listening to my little sister who was, you guessed it, a cheerleader. I don’t think she realizes how much I’d eavesdrop on her conversations. She was a gateway into a world I never took part in so I listened hard to what her conversations were like so I could learn to write characters where were less like me. That’s the key to writing varied dialogue… spying on other people. I’ll be the NSA is going to crank out some really good writers in the next decade or two XD
The time skip has been something I’ve been building up to for a while. I always get really nervous about time skips. I worry I won’t be able to naturally make the reader feel how much time has passed. I hope it didn’t confuse too many people here.
Okay, time to address the elephant in the room: Robynne and the lesbian question. Let’s first acknowledge that orientation is not a simple binary issue. There are many shades of gray (I’m told 50 of them) and Robynne’s unique situation further complicates a very difficult question. To be honest, there is likely a more robust explanation to Robynne’s orientation that involves discussing the Kinsey scale, asexuality, and other assorted terms. But none of those robust explanations, to me anyway, felt like it matched Robynne’s personality.
For someone who attacks with sneakiness and cunning, Robynne is actually pretty straightforward with how she approaches life. She doesn’t like the shades of gray. She prefers black and white answers. She’s an engineer. She’s from a small town. She wouldn’t be interested in all this data that, she would consider, not to be that useful to her because if someone asks her, “which way to you lean,” she doesn’t want to get into a conversation about scales and shades. Robynne wants a simple answer and, as far as she’s concerned, the simplest answer is that she’s been stimulated by looking at guys so that’s where she’s leaning.
There is another facet to this that I think some people might forget at times but that’s the fact that Robynne, when she was Robert, was accused of being gay when she wasn’t. It wasn’t the being accused of being gay that bothered her, but rather being told that she was a liar that bothered her. Robynne prizes being genuine with people. If she said she was a lesbian, she’d know that answer isn’t a genuine answer but an answer of convenience. She’d also hate that, if it got out that she was a lesbian, that she might give off hope to other lesbians that she was part of their community and maybe even a potential member of their dating pool. Robynne knows she would not be able to wade those social waters. She’s never been gay. How would she fake her way through the gay community when she has no experience in it? She’s been a heterosexual male her whole life and dated heterosexual women. She rooms with heterosexual women. Her body seems to lean in the direction of a heterosexual woman. She may not have much experience with it, but she’s confident she can learn to pull that role off.
Plus I can’t undersell how much it’d bug her to go through guys fantasizing about the hot lesbian cheerleader with an accent. That thought weirds her the honey out.
Some people have pointed out to me that Robynne’s safest claim would be to claim she was some flavor of asexual. While I don’t disagree with that I think that approach overlooks a couple of things. One, asexuality as a topic isn’t widely understood by society. Some psychologists don’t even think it’s a real thing. It’s an orientation that is much less studied than other orientations. In other words, I think the topic is something that is definitely up for debate amongst the readers, but it’s a sticky area that I don’t want to get into inside my story. I think it would bog things down and move away from storylines I’m more interested in pursuing. Plus, I also think it’s no an answer that would make sense to Robynne who, again, prefers simple answers. She doesn’t want to have to explain asexuality to a cheerleader who may have never heard of it. Furthermore, Robynne knows her body wants a guy. To her, that’s what defines your sexuality. Will her definition expand as time goes on? Maybe. Robynne is only 18 and grew up in a small part of the world. I had all sorts of opinions when I was 18 that have morphed and expanded as I matured. Regardless, I don’t want to marry myself to any idea but I’m only going to explore that topic further if I think it will improve the story. All that said, however, I’m not sure if asexual is really the best descriptor for Robynne either because, although she doesn’t like touching other people, she does want there to be a physical component to a relationship. She’s not a pure romantic person. She had some physical contact with Brook and, the parts that Robert actually tried, he enjoyed. He just has issues getting to that point. Then again, as far as I read, being asexual doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the physical part of the relationship, it’s just that you don’t seek it out… it’s complicated. I think what this paragraph shows, is that my biggest concern with approaching this angle for Robynne is that I’m not confident in my own knowledge about the subject therefore I’d rather go with an explanation that I feel confident I can write well without insulting anyone by portraying some alternative approach and butchering it with my misunderstanding.
I’m droning on about this topic because sexuality is obviously a bit of a hot button topic. I want people to understand that I didn’t make this reveal decision lightly. I also wanted to do it here because this is a magical girl story. In Magical Girl stories, you are expected to do some shipping. That goes triple for the fans. I knew this reveal would sink some of the favorite ships of the readers and I didn’t feel it would be right for me to keep going forward and lead those fans on. Robynne now has had two weeks to sort through some of these ideas in her head. It was time for her to reveal how she’d approach things going forward rather than leading anyone on, be they character or reader. If I sunk your ship and you’re bummed by that, I really am sorry about that. No one likes their ships being sunk. I myself tend to get a bit annoyed every time Batman ends up flirting with Catwoman because I think he and Zatanna are way cooler together! Sadly, this is part of what happens in this genre and I have to burst some people’s bubbles and it makes me feel awful. I’ve never gotten far enough in a story where I reach this part because… well I’ve never gotten this far in the story. Frankly, part of me wonders if this is partly why I went on hiatus last time because I wanted to avoid this part of writing. But, I guess writing can’t all be sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes I have to buckle down… and break my fans’ hearts. Sorry.
For future reference, I’m not likely going to be discussing this topic with you all in comments. This is, again, a hot button I don’t like pressing too often because it’s a topic that people keep close to their hearts. I’ve seen fandoms tear themselves apart over Ship-to-Ship combat. Yes, it’s a TV Trope. Sorry if linking you to that website ruins your productivity today. Anyway, as it is a hot button issue and anything else I have to say on the issue could be spoilerific, I’m likely to remain silent. MAYBE I’ll say something if I think it is helpful to the conversation, but don’t count on it. Please, as always, remember to be respectful to one another. You all have never given me any reason to doubt your kindness and patience however so I don’t think we’ll have any issues.