Here On Earth

By. E. Red

Chapter 9

The only bad thing about having Toni in my room was that it meant I had to make some room for her to have her own space. Not really a bad thing, per se, but a little tough to do. As I've said before, I keep a lot of crap around in my room. And I had to get rid of some of it.

Luckily enough, I was in a rather... Reflective mood, for the rest of the break at least. I decided to make the change in my life sooner, rather than later.

Yeah. As if self imposed changes were the only ones I had to deal with...

I think it's safe to say, and good to admit, that I did more growing up in that break than I had in the previous several years. I got rid of a lot of crap, too. Some to make space in my life, some to make room for Toni.

I decided to give up my performing arts. Yes, it was a big decision, and made just a bit on a whim, but I did consider it more or less thoroughly before letting go. My comedy act was shot all to hell due to my gender change, and I wasn't good enough a musician for it to be a viable goal to strive for. I kept my guitar, if only for personal therapy, but all the rest of my stuff went into a trunk and then the crawlspace, never to bee seen again, until I moved out.

Yes, it sounds a little fatalistic. Move on. I did.

Toni made the aforementioned leaps in control over the remainder of the break, and it felt good to care for her the way she needed to be cared for. Sometimes I wonder if she linked herself into my empathic senses, or if it was my growing 'maternal instincts', as my friends were so inclined to tease, but it seemed that it only took a smile from her to brighten my mercurial moods...

Which were getting easier to manage, too. Acceptance of my situation, as well as a long period of being away from it, so to speak, had given me a healthy respect for my newfound emotions, and with that came a measure of control that at least enabled me to function on my off days.

Which, of course, there were several of. News of my 'breakup' with Al had travelled discreetly through our social network, and landed among other bombshells that sprouted over the break. Our precarious balance was upset by the loss of several members. Our little group was getting smaller by a quarter, and my episode with Al went almost unnoticed because of it.

Marco was moving back to Mexico with his family after the passing of a wealthy family relative. We all had a good laugh at the jokes he cracked as we met at his place for the last time, but we all knew that we'd never be the same without him. Even me, which took me rather by surprise at the time. Marco and I had had very little interaction since 'the change', but he'd always been there with a joke, even in the worst of times, and it would hurt to loose that.

Worse yet was the next day, when Jordan called us all together to reveal something. Turns out his genius hadn't gone unnoticed, and he had just been accepted into some government think tank. Since he and Andy were a package deal, the two of them would be moving out of state at the end of the break.

So our little circle was shattered. Of course, with email and vmail being so readily available, it would hardly be like we'd never see each other again. But the fact of the matter is that it would never be the same without them there.

I tried to enjoy the rest of my break. I did more running than I might have before. I guess I was trying to keep my body occupied so my mind would be, too. Running replaced all the things I gave up, to an extent. I could loose myself in some good music and the rush of endorphins, and I wouldn't have to think about anything more than where my next footfall would be.

The guys at the club started me into climbing, and I decided to enroll in Karate lessons as well. Not out of fear. Not really, anyway... It's just something I'd always wanted to do, really. I always used to fight on instinct, and with a little knowledge about how nature works. It was kinda nice to finally learn how to defend myself properly.

One quip about "ladies self-defense classes", and I stop writing right now.

...

All right then.

Physical fitness was never a big part of my life, but when you suddenly feel every last molecule of fluid in your body, it can get to be rather addicting... I think I've touched on this before... Anyway, my newfound 'exercise kick' got me more than a few jibes from my sister, but after a week or so, I caught her sneaking out in the wee hours of the morning to go for a jog and cutting back on the Choco-Bran.

Let's just say I got my revenge.

Heh.

Toni was with me at any other given moment. She was... I just can't describe it, really. It was a little irritating, to be honest, but every time she looked up at me with those big green eyes, I folded under them. We did a lot together. I found out she liked to draw, and to be entirely honest, she was really good at it. Many a night found the two of us all cuddled up together on my beanbag chair out on the balcony, her with her sketchbook and me with my guitar. (Of course I didn't get rid of it. It was a gift from my dad.)

She would sometimes do this crazy thing where she would take an image of something out of someone's mind (usually mine) and sketch it out exactly as that person saw it. Pretty cool stuff, actually, especially when she drew her interpretation first. Sometimes the differences in perception were staggerring.

She opened up to me, too. About her life, before the whole incident that brought her to me. She was a singer. I remembered that from the news, vaguely. But she really loved it, and MORFS took her voice away. Cruel irony. She didn't mind much. She told me that she'd rather be mute and here than singing and there.

I didn't press. The whole line of thought seemed to bother her.

And, of course, I was melting under her confession at the time.

Stupid, giggly, gushy hormones...

(Insert romantic sigh here)

Going back to school was hard. Even just getting into the Jeep was a chore, let alone maneuvering it through the gauntlet of moving trucks from across the street. I dropped off Toni and Dad at her school, where he promised me for the hundredth time that he'd be watching her like a hawk, and I promised Toni for the hundredth time that I would be there to pick her up right after school. I suppose that no amount of psionic power could truly defeat a little girl's fear of abandonment, however legitemate the cause of those fears was.

Long story. Comes later in the narrative.

Allan left as soon as he saw me come in to the cafeteria, and I wasn't about to talk to the remainder of the gang about it.

"Sorry, guys... I'm just not ready to deal yet..."

They let me be. More or less. Johnny gave me a pat on the back before lumbering off to follow Al. Being one of only three guys left, I think he felt a little outnumbered, besides his intention of helping us work this whole thing out. Luckily, I was spared from having to spill my guts by the timely arrival of Kimmy Valentine.

Turns out there was some good gossip over the break. Specifically, about my old nemesis, Randall Jones. Turns out, Randy got MORFS for the second time. We were just getting to the speculating about what had happened to the asshole, when he showed up.

Or rather, she turned up.

Oh, yes. You read that right. Karma, thy name is 'Bitch'.

The connection was by no means immediate. Someone at the table behind us made a passing remark about 'some new girl', and the warning bell for first period went off. We all scattered to our respective corners of the school, and I saw her there.

She looked nothing like he had, which was not entirely surprising. She was tiny, four-foot nine, maybe ten at the most. She was thin, her tiny hands just barely peeking out from under the sweater she was wearing. Her jeans, on the other hand, clung to her legs, showing small, delicate curves whenever her sweater flopped out of the way. She had long, flowing copper-coloured hair that she let hang down in front of her face, but you could see the glasses glinting on her nose every once and a while.

She sat down at the back of the class in one of the empty seats, never once saying a word to anyone, and stared out the window and into the early January mist. Ms. Swann closed the door promptly as the second bell went off and took her place at the podium as usual, but she paused, picking up a single piece of paper and scanning it with a raised eyebrow. Her eyes flickered up towards Randy's empty seat, then to the back of the class, where the new girl sat.

I think I was the only one who noticed the slight motion, but the implications of it made me rock back on my proverbial heels.

Oh, this was too poetic.

But as the class went on, I couldn't keep my eyes from straying back to the girl by the window. She sat there, unseeing eyes staring through the book in front of her. She didn't move. She hardly seemed to be breathing. And as much as I wanted to feel that rush of glee, the vindicated happiness that comes with justice being served, I couldn't.

I saw myself. And, to an extent, I saw Toni. I saw someone who was alone, and scared in a big new world, and a small new body. And, for the first time, I saw who Randall Jones was. Who had hidden inside the great, stupid bully he had been. The reason, like so many other things I've talked about, doesn't show up in this story for a while, but when it did... Well... You'll see...

Humanities. Oh, boy. A new MORF in the class meant a break from the lectures. Or at least I thought so. As I sat down next to Leanne, I watched the girl who used to be Randy, as there was no doubt in my mind by this point who she was, discreetly step up to Mr. Waterlander before the rest of the class had filed in, and handed him a piece of paper, just like the one Ms. Swann had read, and then turned back to the classroom. Only, unlike our English class, this class was in a small room, and the only available desk that wasn't her old one was right next to me.

Even through the copper screen of her hair, I could see her eyes widen with something akin to fear, and I felt horrible. This new forgiveness kick I'd been on was really doing wonders for my state of mind, but seeing what my 'nemesis', so to speak, had become was nearly too much. My conscience reared it's head, and I did yet another thing I never thought I would do in my lifetime.

I dumped out all the mental baggage I had on Randy Jones and started a new file.

"Hey." I said as she sat down. She flinched away from me. "Welcome to our little slice of hell. My name is Mia, what's yours?"

She stared at me like I was going to hit her, and again I berated myself for the way I had been before the change. "Miranda..." She whispered after a moment, turning back to her book.

Huh... Miranda... Short form: Randi. Not so clever with the cover, there, Jones...

"Well, Miranda, I know what it's like to be the new girl in school." I told her. Seraphim was casting curious glances in my direction, but said nothing. "Hell, I was a new girl not too long ago." She flinched again. "But hey, if you want, I can show you around, help you meet some new people. Waddya say?"

Nothing, apparently. She stayed silent until the end of class, and left without a word to anybody.

Just as a little sidenote, I was a little pissed at Mr. Waterlander. One little note, and he lets her off the hook? B.S.

But my mind was drawn back to the day I had returned to school after my change. Sure, she was unlikely to leave the school grounds and almost be...

I ran after her anyway, and caught her just outside the cafeteria. "Hey! What's the hurry, Randi?"

Poor choice of words. She dropped the load of books she was carrying in horror, and backed away. "W-what did you c-call me...?"

"Oh, come on. I can't be the first person who ever called you that..." I floundered, looking for an out as I started to pick up her books.

"Y-you... You know..." She sank to the floor even as I tried to hand her books back to her.

"Know what?" Yeah... Play dumb... Oh, no... I made her cry...

"Who I a-am..."

Perfect, no? I made 'the new girl' cry on her first day, in the middle of the hall, no less. I picked her up to her feet as gently as I could and ushered her into the thankfully empty senior's lounge. Nobody used it before lunch at our school, for reasons that shall never be known to us mortal children. I got her sitting on one of the couches before I noticed the shaking.

"P-please... Don't hurt m-me..."

Damn. She was afraid of me. I suppose it wasn't unexpected. It's not every day you go through MORFS a second time, loose your super powers and wind up trapped in a small room with your now-much-bigger-than-you least favorite person in the world.

"I'm not going to hurt you, Randi." She flinched yet again. "And for the record, no. I don't know who you are." She blinked behind her glasses. "I may know who you were, but only you can define who you are right now. Who the new you will be."

"Don't forget, I was where you are right now not so long ago. What better time to change your llife than when it gets turned upside down?"

She said nothing, not until I opened my mouth to continue. "Please, just stop..." I did, like an idiot. "Just... Leave me alone."

And, like a bigger idiot, I did.

I left her there, in the lounge, and returned to the daily minutia of life at Victor St. Lewis High.

She stayed away from everyone. Not just me. Everyone, students and faculty alike. But, like all great mysteries, her lack of interaction made her stand out way more than she should have. All of it, her choice of clothing, her avoidance, the way she wore her hair in front of her face. Going out of her way to not be anything special.

Right. Like that would work in a high school.

I kept my mouth shut. Don't know why. I owed her nothing, far from it in fact. But my 'forgiveness kick' could only extend so far...

A week passed. Toni adjusted very well to public school, even making a few friends. She was so excited... Being home schooled all her life made the whole experience a wonder, and being enrolled two years above her age group had been a great concern of mine, but apparently some of the girls in her classes had taken a shine to the 'shy, quiet, smart kid'.

Good for her.

And, of course, with me being her 'big sister', I had to meet all these younger girls, who immediately raised me onto some sort of pedestal for Goddess knows what reason. It was... An interesting experience, at least.

Allan and I... We started talking after a few days. It was actually Frankie, our school's security officer, who got us communicating. The man does more meddling than he's worth, and of course we loved him all the more for it. Al listened to my explaination, and grudgingly accepted my reasoning after a good, long talk. It was nice to have my friend back, even if I screwed up our relationship with my indecisiveness.

Live and learn.

Then, about mid month, Miranda disappeared.

I suppose it was bound to happen. I didn't see it, but I sure as hell heard about it. Apparently some of her former friends had gotten fed up with waiting to hear about what had happened to Randy and gone to her home. Something had happened there, and she missed a half a week of school. And when she came back...

It was something out of my nightmares. She showed up late to third period, dressed in even more baggy clothes than usual. She walked with her head hanging lower than usual, and an unmistakable shake in her step. Every teacher who saw her tried to talk to her, but she just waved them off without looking up, stating that she was just 'tired'.

I'm still not sure what it was. Something about her... The way she was acting...

It made me mad.

No. Not mad.

Furious.

I confronted her during lunch. She was sitting outside, alone, on the bleachers, picking at a sandwich and trying not to look around. I could tell. I passed a group of her former friends, all of whom were snickering about something and casting glances across the field at her.

She glanced up when she heard me climb the first couple of steps. It looked to me like she was about to bolt, so I stopped and sat down a few feet away.

"Hey." Yeah. That sounded smart... "How are you, Mira?"

She flinched at the name, and glanced at me. Or at least, she appeared to, anyway. It was hard to tell with all of her hair hanging in front of her face.

"It's better than 'Randi', isn't it? Or would you prefer I say 'Miranda' every time?" I suppose she'd rather have nothing to do with me at all...

"That's fine..." She barely whispered.

"Cool. Now would you like to tell me why you've been MIA for almost a week?" Another flinch, and the shaking started. "Hey, you don't have to..."

That's when I saw it, and nearly lost my mind. It was only a glimpse, a brief sliver from between the locks of her hair.

It was a bruise.

My blood boiled over immediately. She flinched away as I stood up and moved to sit beside her, but she didn't run. I think she wanted someone to know about it, but couldn't bring herself to talk about it. Unfortunately for her, I was the exact wrong person you wanted to find out and keep it a secret.

"Who did it?" Anger wavered on the edges of my voice, but she stayed.

"I-it's nothing..."

I punched the bench. What else was I going to punch? Sweet pain dulled the anger for a moment, and I cursed, shaking the hand out. "I want to help you, Mira. But I can't do that if you won't let me?"

"Why?" Simple question, not so simple to answer. "Why would you ever help me? A-after everything I did..."

"It's like I said, I'm trying to be a better person. And my life has been... Complicated. Especially so, as of late. The last thing I need is another area of conflict, where there is a chance for a new friend..."

She finally looked up. All the way, I mean. She didn't say anything, though.

"Let me look?" I asked, and she nodded slowly. I brushed her hair to one side, and bit my lip to keep from yelling.

Her glasses were cracked, the bridge taped together with scotch tape. Her right eye was swollen and purple, but looked like it was healing. There was a thin red line running from just above her left eye to below her jawline, and it looked like it was going to leave a permanent scar. It was the first time I saw her whole face, and the first time I noticed her eyes.

They were the same grey mine had been, pre-MORFS.

And they were so, so sad...

I swallowed hard, forcing my anger down, along with images of a ten-year-old Julia, crying herself to sleep. "What else?" I asked. Her hands, which had crossed defensively over her chest when I moved closer, twitched. "Please... I have to know before I can help."

I was asking a recently abused, newly-MORFed girl to trust me, someone who was adversarial at best in her former life. People who've heard the story have all reacted rather negatively, from gentle chiding to outright distress.

But she took my hand, slowly. Painfully. And she showed me. She guided me to several tender spots. Her ribs. Her shoulder. Her knee. And when she let go, her other hand settled in her lap. And the slight wince that accompanied...

"No..." She hiccupped, and turned away. "Who did this?" Her eyes flickered across the field, and my heart stopped cold. The idiots were still snickering even as I turned to charge.

At least my killer instincts hadn't dulled.

"Stop!" And, like a moron, I did. "Please... Just... Leave them..."

"Leave them!? Look at you! You're saying they did this to you, and you don't-"

"They didn't..." She interrupted me, still looking away in shame. "They... They just... Watched..."

This did not achieve the desired calming effect.

"Watched... You mean they stood by and LET this happen to you!?" Clearly, my anger, however justified, was not helping at all. She was a complete wreck, and I was only making it worse. One last glare, and I forced myself to take a breath and sit back down. "Okay. Alright, I'm calm."

My life is full of awkward pauses, I just realized that.

...

"D-did you mean it...?" She started picking at her lunch again.

"Mean what?"

"That you'd... Be my friend..."

Why do I do these things to myself?

"Well... Yeah. Why wouldn't I mean it?" She gave me a look. "I told you already, I'm trying to be a better person. You should try it..." She flinched. Poor choice of words. Again. Not one of my better mornings, as you can see... "I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

"No. You're right..." She put her sandwich down again. "I was... Not a nice person."

"No. No you weren't."

She smiled slightly. "I'm sorry... Can you... Forgive me?"

"Forgiven and forgotten. But only if you let me take you to the nurse."

She told the nurse where the bruises came from. She thought I was out of the room at the time. Not so. I heard exactly what her scumbag father did to her.

Thankfully, the school board never found out how those pipes burst in the wall.

Frankie led the cops through the school, and I very discreetly took him aside and told him what she had told me outside. Several of her former friends were hauled out of classes over the afternoon, and the rumor mill ground at full speed in their wake.

It was last period before I could get everyone together to talk. The ratio may have changed, but we were closer than ever with a quarter of us gone. "Hey, guys... I gotta talk to you all about... Well, a lot, actually." Julia's curiosity tweaked in my head. "It's about Randall."

"What about her?" Al asked with a slight sneer. Her MORF was common knowledge by now, having been divulged at some point through her week of absence, probably by her dirtbag ex-friends.

"Not funny." I scowled at him, and he at least had the courtesy to look ashamed. "Her new name is Miranda, but we're gonna call her Mira, as opposed to the obvious insulting stab at her old name."

"Umm... Why, exactly?" Johnny asked, scratching his head with one giant finger.

The girls got it without me having to explain. I could see it in the sympathetic looks and agreeable nods they were sharing. I bit down on a sigh. "Because I only managed through my change because of my friends, and now she has none."

"So this is like a whole 'similar situations' guilt trip, right?" Mic asked innocently.

"Bite me."

So not in the mood.

"Alright, so you're asking if we can clear the air, and try to forgive and forget?" Jen asked.

"Basically? Yes. That's a very accurate summary." Honestly, sometimes I wonder about my friends.

There was much discussion and debate, as there always is between large groups of teenage girls. The two remaining guys maintained their reservations about her, but in the end, they agreed to at least give Mira a chance to be someone new. And the girls were a little more gushy over my own relenting than anything else. Jules gave me a big hug and told me how proud she was of me for doing what I was doing.

And you all know by now how much my sister's feelings affect me.

Mira and her mother moved into a small apartment not far away from the school, liquidating the family's assets even before the divorce papers went through. Her father would be serving a dime in federal prison, and her older brother promised her that if he ever caused her any trouble again, he'd fly home from halfway across the country to personally break his fingers.

All of them.

And so, with much ceremony and pomp, we lost some friends to the winds, and gained a new one. And for close to a month, we were just normal teenagers again. As normal as teenagers can be, of course.

I had a new little sister. I had friends and family all around me. And I was happy.

Of course things were going to go to hell. Karma is, after all, a bitch.

 

The entire MORFS  Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/

 


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