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Marissa Jauntsen last won the day on April 21 2021

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  1. Branch-9 Underground Facility: Lab Two “I don’t think this is a good idea,” Taggart said calmly. He and Annette were in Lab Two, surrounded by a few doctors in lab coats and a plethora of exercise and medical equipment. The two of them had been patiently waiting on Marissa to arrive, and already she was ten minutes late. “Second Lieutenant Osman is a good kid. He’s green, fresh out of Knife and Fork, but we have no idea what she is going to do to him, Annette. We should at least tell him.” “John, relax,” Annette reassured him. “Marissa has said that her abilities can not force anyone to do anything, and if he knows, it could taint the results. This is simply an observation to see how her natural charm operates, nothing more.” “Does she know that?” He seemed anxious, obviously not trusting Marissa one bit, or one of his promising officers being left alone with her. “John, please, trust me.” Annette almost chuckled. “For balance, I’ve also asked our newest intern to sit in on the tests.” “The Bannon kid? Jesus, Ann, she hates that guy.” He sighed, shaking his head. The last thing John Taggart wanted to do was be alone in a room with the underage socialite, let alone turn her loose on a whole room of male doctors, officers and one guy she hated. There were considerations, like what if they all began fighting over her, to consider. Annette swore she was there to act as the buffer between her and them, but he had his doubts of how effective she would be if the emotionally volatile teenager decided to throw a tantum. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” He looked towards the door and sighed, “And speak of the devil.” Marissa stepped into the lab looking like Kardashian money banded in the red workout gear she’d worn to Jason’s farm a week prior. She turned every head, like always and it that response that worried Major Taggart. While the major seemed largely unbothered by her constant flirting and attractive appearance, he realized that not everyone was as willful as he was. He found her attitude and immaturity more annoying than that a niche cuteness the young teen thought she was conveying sometimes. She offered them all a dramatic hair whip in greeting as she looked around like she didn’t know where to go, giving her that sexy damsel needing guidance look, as she scanned the lab, assessing what she was in for that morning. “Marissa,” Annette approached her smiling wide and offered the young woman her hands as a greeting. “Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can use today to discover some answers and insight into your capabilities.” “Unless you need another ten minutes for an all-about-me entrance,” Major Taggart approached and stopped, folding his arms defensively. Marissa may have been a minor, and she may not technically work for his command, but it was still his command. He met her eyes with an already obvious irritation. “You’re late.” “I am I though?” she sneered. “If you’d give me clearance maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with all your meathead security in order to get down here.” “Go check in with the doctors,” he dismissed her comment, along with her as he gave Annette a disapproving look. “John,” Anette touched his arm and looked up at him with calm eyes. “Relax. She’s not the enemy. She’s difficult, yes, but we, you, and I, are all these kids have. They need guidance, not more people turning them away.” He sighed, still not convinced but he couldn’t deny the plea for a bit more empathy in her words. “I’ll try. No promises.” Marissa checked in with the doctors and within a half hour she was briefed on the various studies and exercises they’d be going through as well as the minor medical treatments she’d be undergoing. The Project was up front about the fact that technically none of what they were doing was legal, considering she was a minor and her parents weren’t present. Given her mother’s outburst at the meeting no one thought it would be wise to invite her. Her father, Carl, seemed far more open-minded to being present but when Marissa had asked him, he said he was still trying to process secret military bases, demons from other worlds and his children having magical mind powers, or whatever they were calling it. Still, he gave his blessing for her be present for the tests and in the eyes of the Project that was good enough considering the odd circumstances they worked under half the time. First was some blood work, to see what physiological changes had occurred in her body and for that she was escorted by Annette over to Second Lieutenant Osman, a handsome young man in his early twenties who was working on his master’s degree in biology with a minor in genetics. “Marissa, this is Brandon Osman, he’ll be working with you today as the doctors perform their tests. He’s been briefed, but still hasn’t had the opportunity to meet with any of you.” “That’s not entirely true, ma’am,” Brandon said as he accepted Marissa’s extended hand and almost melted from her smile. “I’ve been working with-“ “-me,” said Jason Bannon who approached from behind Marissa and turned to face the two women. “For the last hour or so anyways. He is up to speed.” “From the point of view of a psychopath,” Marissa hissed while glaring daggers at Jason. She looked to Annette. “The hell is he doing here?” “I work here.” Jason replied matter-of-factly to her question. “Are you kidding me right now?” Huffing, she rolled her eyes. Brandon stepped in, finally letting go of her hand as it was starting to feel a little awkward. “Marissa, you’ll be working with me. Jason is simply here to observe and take notes as part of his internship. Please, all of us here have a lot ot gain from understanding your capabilities, yourself most of all. As an unknown quantity working with the military, as a military body myself, I can confirm that sometimes the easiest way to sow a little trust is to show how well we can work with others, despite not wanting to.” She paused for a moment, losing herself in his blue eyes while she considered what he said. He wasn’t wrong. “Aren’t you cute.” she inhaled and sighed. “Fine, since it’s you and not him.” She leaned in and flirtatiously cooed, “but you have to promise to take good care of me.” He cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable as Jason expressionlessly groaned on the inside as Marissa inner thot never seemed to turn off. “Well, yes…,” he cleared his throat again as he tried to courteously pull away from her. “Marissa, you’re still in high school and,” I raised his left hand and wiggled his ring finger displaying a dazzling titanium band. “And I’m married. So, why don’t we keep this friendly, hm? A little less flirting.” “Well,” she sighed, exhaling lazily seemingly already bored with him. “That’s no fun, but at least one of those things I can fix for you,” she leaned in and smirked, leaving him uncomfortable again. “And the other isn’t an issue in Montana. Sixteen is legal here.” She winked. “Enough, Marissa.” Major Taggart tone was authoritative and carried with it that dare of her to test him, if only for a moment. “Play your games at school. We’re here to work, so either let him do his job, or find the door.” “I was just having a little fun,” She pouted. “You’re no fun, Major.” She stepped over to a chair where they were planning on drawing blood. “Fine let’s get on with this.” “See?” Annette said softly. “Osman was fine. I think he’ll be fine for the purposes of this observation. Not many could have brushed her off like that.” Taggart didn’t look at her, his eyes were still locked on Marissa who was now allowing Brandon to prepare her for a blood draw, obviously still flirting with him, just with more subtlety. “We’ll see.” ---===[***]===--- Brandon avoided as much eye contact as possible as he fumbled to prepare the enchanting brunette in the chair for a blood withdrawal. Her arm was tied off and despite it being a ‘simple’ blood draw the young officer seemed to be having trouble piercing her skin. His brow furrowed as he attempted for the third time to set the needle in her stubborn vein. “Ow!” She jerked her arm away from him. “Sorry,” he replied softly. “Your vein is being rather stubborn.” “Or you just don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” Marissa scowled, narrowing her eyes at him. “That’s a possibility too,” he said, allowing himself a subtle, sarcastic smile. Doctor Carter, the Project’s resident lead geneticist and neurologist, stepped forward and politely asked the Second Lieutenant to give her a moment with Marissa. She massaged the teen’s muscle and took a moment to inspect the site where the needle failed to find purchase in her inner elbow. Without warning she stabbed Marissa on the arm with the same needle in her forearm. Marissa jumped, withdrawing her arm and hopping up and out of the chair, backing a few steps away from the doctor. “Ow, what the hell, lady!” She looked to Annette then Taggart before looking back to Doctor Carter. “Are you out of you mind?” “I treat super powered teenagers who melt steel with their minds.” She replied quietly. “So it’s debatable. Look at your arm, Marissa. Why are you not bleeding?” When the emotional teen looked at her arm it was red, like she’d been pinched, but the doctor was right, Marissa wasn’t bleeding. “Jason says he witnessed you almost swallowed whole by one of those creatures. Teeth all very sharp, several inches, in fact, but it couldn’t bite you in half? You escaped with a few puncture wounds, but albeit, minor ones. I find that hard believe.” “This isn’t church,” Marissa rubbed her arm. She glanced at Jason, offering him that look that told him that now with him working for them it was his turn to blab all their secrets. “It’s a lab. Your belief isn’t required, doctor. I was fighting back, it couldn’t get a good grip on me to bite down.” “Or,” she ushered Marissa over to another machine, one with a large ring on it where Marissa could rest her arm, like a blood pressure machine, but seemingly more advanced. She encouraged Marissa to insert her arm, assuring her she wouldn’t be stabbed again. A few screens lit up, displaying information and readings that the young woman didn’t understand. It wasn’t long before a hexagonal pattern emerged, and the doctors and professors stood around it, nodding and appearing to be astounded. “They do this a lot?” She asked Jason while she stood there, her arm in some strange machine. The stoic teen offered her a shrug in acknowledgment. “You get used to it.” The scientists and doctors continued to speak for a few more moments while Marissa looked bored and ignored with her arm in the machine. “Okay, people! Seriously, I’m standing here with my arm in a… something. Is anyone going to talk to me?” “Sorry,” Professor Palahiuk said, adjusting his glasses as he approached her. He was the rather rotund, creepy uncle guy that Marissa and Courtney didn’t really care much for. “Uh, yes… uh, well, you see, skin cells are round-ish, sometimes hexagonal but always oblong, meaning they are never same shape or dimension.” “Those are your cells, there on the screen, Marissa.” Doctor Carter pointed to the monitor. “Each is perfectly symmetrical and instead of overlapping they are joined and bound on all side by this microscopic… seam that holds everything together. I’ve only seen this particular genetic make up in one other life form on the planet-“ “-The abalone.” Jason inserted. “The shell?” Marissa offered them both a puzzled look. “How come I’m not, blue or whatever, and what exactly does that mean, for me?” A thin smile snuck its way across the doctor’s lips. “Military armor manufacturers use the same composite design found in abalone to create armors designed to deflect and diffuse kinetic energy. With that energy diffused at the point of contact, the harm inflicted to the soldier is greatly reduced. Your skin seems to duplicate this diffusion process, but more testing is needed. It also means that the harder that creature tried to chew you, the more difficult it became for it.” “So, am I like… bullet proof?” Jason had never heard Marissa sound more like an excited child with a new toy than he did at this moment. “It’s possible,” the professor spoke up as he jotted a few notes on his pad. “Sir, we’re going to need a small caliber fire arm-“ “No one is shooting anyone, Professor,” Taggart shook his head sighed. “Can you do blood work, or not?” “Certainly,” Doctor Carter nodded. “Now that we know what the barrier to doing so is. This way Marissa.” ---===[***]===--- “You and Jason don’t seem to like each other.” Brandon politely stated as the doctors and professors huddled around Marissa’s blood samples speaking as to who would handle the first string of tests. Jason was dutifully scrawling a few notes away from the others and didn’t seem overmuch interested in what the others were doing or saying. “Is he an ex or something?” “Could’ve been.” She shrugged. Brandon carefully applied a band aid to the puncture point and wrapped it up. “I had a crush on him, then he told me he loved me and then slept with my best friend.” “That’s, uh, wow…” he shook his head, resisting the urge to look at Jason. “Seems like there’s more to it than that.” “There is,” she rubbed her arm with her thumb. “But everything about them dating just seems like a plot to get back at me. It’s whatever.” Inwardly the Second Lieutenant was relieved that high school drama was no longer on his plate. “Get back at you? For what?” “Apparently, I’m a horrible person or something, I don’t know. I guess I almost got them killed so now they think I can’t be trusted. They’re like, hyper-sensitive about everything.” She evasively shrugged off his question. “But like I said, it’s whatever. So,” she pursed her lips, looking for a change in subject. “How long have you been married? You seem, I don’t know, young. Like really, you could totally get away with being at my school.” He chuckled and nodded. “I get that a lot. And four months,” he wiggled his ring finger again. “High school sweethearts.” “Cool, cool,” she nodded as if looking for another topic to talk about. “So, how did you end up here, helping the freaks and geeks save world?” “I’m smart,” he confidently smiled. “I’m abut two years ahead on my degrees, working on my masters in genetics and the Air Force pays for school. So, it works out.” “More geniuses, great,” Marissa rolled her eyes and smiled coyly as she caught his eyes drinking in her skintight red sports bra and leggings. She surprised, as nearly every man in this place broke their neck at times trying to get a look at her. “Jason’s super smart and has all the personality of a pet rock, the other genius Sean, he’s like a total tech wizard and loves machines more than people. How’d you get the extrovert gene?” “There must be something special about him,” Brandon said, looking in Jason’s direction as lanky teen kept scrawling his notes. “Pfft, puh-lease,” she chuckled dismissively. “There is nothing special about him.” “Then how’d you fall for him?” His question came so smooth and swift that Marissa almost let her composure slip. “We should see what test they want us to do next,” as she slid from the chair, he offered her his hand as she stood up. “And a gentleman too.”
  2. Cade sighed. "It isn't that, Marissa. You have done a lot for my confidence, believe it or not. I just don't expect to start looking again right away. Like you said, you are an impossible standard. Taking some time seems the right thing to do, to me at least. I don't want to find myself judging anyone else by the standard you’ve set." It wasn't that this made him uncomfortable, he knew he should be sad, or angry, but she had outlined how this was going to be, just a relationship of convenience. It wasn't really her fault that he started to care for her. He'd never expected to see her as he did, let alone find himself in a sexual relationship with her. In part, he was disappointed with himself that he wasn't "Good enough." He knew that this would never be a permanent thing, but still, he would have liked it to continue awhile longer. Forcing the issue seemed a bad idea, but he didn't just want to accept that it was going to end like nothing more than a business arrangement. In Marissa’s grand paranoia that everyone in the world was only out for themselves she couldn’t see that she had a guy in front of her who was willing to die for her, literally, and he almost did, in a Hellscape a few days ago. "We may not be ‘dating’ after homecoming, but until then we are. I know you're trying to plan ahead, and get me to plan ahead, but right now that's not what I want. What I want is to enjoy the time until then with you. I mean I know afterwards, we'll still have to work together to save the world from whatever else shows up to destroy it and kill us, so it's not like we won't see each other again or anything." Cade chuckled softly, and she could see a bit of sadness in his eyes, but it vanished quickly enough. "Chris Hemmsworth huh? Haruka likes him too. Still, I don't think you'd need to kidnap him if you put your mind to it. Now getting Devin to bring you to where he is and setting up a ‘chance encounter’ so you can work your magic, that'd probably take a bit of doing." He would do anything to hide how hurt he was going to be, even it meant going along with her joke about hooking up with Chris Hemsworth, which she knew would break his heart. She hated wrestling with these new-found situations like ‘friendship’ and ‘caring’. She found she liked the Fellowship and Cade himself was an amazing guy, but she didn’t know the first thing about thinking beyond herself. She figured it was one of those baby steps situations and in time she’d work it all out. After the blow out during her big truth reveal she realized that wasn’t going to happen, no one trusted her and made their feelings on the matter pretty clear and all that was left in her heart was spite and contempt disguised politeness so she could kill them with kindness. Cade wasn’t an exception, but he was certainly more in her good graces than most, and that’s when it hit her; the terrible idea that she knew she would come to regret later. As far as self-destructive ideas, it was possibly the tamest she’d had in quite some time, but still even she knew it was a horrible idea even as she said it. “Forget Hemsworth,” she smiled at him, chuckling and shaking her head at knowing Cade would probably run off and kidnap him if it would make her happy and increase her chances of dating him one day. “Look, you’re right. I’m planning like this is over when the agreement was Homecoming so,” she raised a finger to insert a break. “Under the condition that you realize this will be over after Homecoming, and at no point in time use the ‘L’ word,” she narrowed her eyes at him and his every growing crush on her. “I’m totally in. I am now yours, one hundred and ten-percent, one-fifty when we’re alone and the parents aren’t around,” she grinned mischievously and offered him a sultry wink. “We both know the Fellowdorks are aware that this was all one big ruse, so what? Since we’re both having fun with it, who cares what they think? You’re right and we should enjoy the time we have left, right?” Even if that time is just going to make you fall for me even harder… Marissa, what are you doing? It wasn’t often she engaged in mental dialogue with herself, she brimmed over with self-assurance and confidence that mentally second-guessing herself didn’t come naturally to her. She’d just add that to her ever-expanding list of currently new experiences she wasn’t quite appreciative of. “So, Cadums,” she leaned upwards, not having to rise far thanks to her heels, and kissed him. He could feel the change in how she kissed him, like she'd flipped some switch and was now back in full-on girlfriend-mode. “Be my everything, and I will be yours. Fair?” He couldn’t help but smile at that. He knew that this wasn't something that would last, but all the same, he was glad she agreed. He resolved quietly to make sure that neither of them regret the decision overly much. The kiss was electric, and it was hard to think of anything else as her lips were pressed to his. When she pulled away, he wondered how she could just "flip a switch" and be any person she felt she needed to be at that time, but figured it wasn't something he was meant to understand, only to enjoy. "Absolutely Fair." He agreed and pulled her in for another kiss. Normally not one for such a public display, today wasn't a normal day. He had a "real" girlfriend, and for all their faults, and the time limit, they were both committed to giving this their all. Nothing could ruin this. The second he thought that he winced internally. Dredged up like some primordial monster from the depths, his memory of the conversation he'd overheard between his father and her mother at the reception played through his mind, and he knew he had to tell Marissa. The real question was when? Before getting her to commit to even a short-term relationship probably would have been best, but that ship had sailed. Later, when they were alone, that would be the best time, not here in public, and of course she would tell Devin. Right now though it was just about them, and enjoying each other's company. "So where would you like to go next?" “Well,” she interlaced her fingers into his, the first time she’d bothered to hold his hand all evening. He assumed it had something to do with them being ‘official’ again, at least for the time being. She panned her field of vision about, obviously on the hunt for whatever she had planned next. “We need to get a few things for Autumn’s look, and there were a couple of things I wanted to try for Cassie, if she’s open minded about it. So, you get the honor of following me around Sephora, looking bored as I regale you with makeup facts you care nothing about.” She smiled and winked at him. She tugged at his hand luring him to follow her. “C’mon.” “Oh, joy,” he grinned as he feigned an eyeroll. True to her word Cade did spend the better part of an hour bored out of his mind as she regaled him facts about how the makeup she was selecting for Cassie and Autumn and all the reasons it would or would not work with their complexions and… a lot of other things he didn’t really hear. She knew he was bored, and still she tried to engage him as best she could before they finally left to go hit that pretzel stand she’d been eyeing since they arrived. They shut the mall down, by the time the two of them were walking back to Cade’s Jeep the parking lot was practically empty aside from the closing staff doing their evening check lists before going home for the evening. As the headlights lit up the black asphalt that would lead them back to Shelly, Marissa scrolled lazily on her phone through all her various social media accounts and referencing her purchases with what she knew of Cassie and Autumn, never settling for any less than perfection. They didn’t talk much on the way home, just a few short conversations as the weariness of post-shopping laziness gripped them both and they needed time to recover. She talked a bit about her plans for Homecoming with the ‘Fellowdivas’, as she called them, to make the first dance of the year one they’d never forget. The white headlights panned across the front of the Jauntsen house in the distance as they pulled into the driveway. Only Devin’s bedroom light was on they noticed as he twisted the key, cutting the engine. “Looks like Devin’s home.” Cade pointed out. Marissa leaned forward to get a better look at the house. “Doesn’t mean much these days,” she said skeptically. “He’s in and out at all hours lately.” A muted violet flash pulsed in his room, mingling with the light there before another pulsed in the darkness of the kitchen. A white light, like a fridge opening and closing lit of the kitchen behind the curtains before another violet flash pulsed in reverse, ending in his bedroom. “Nope. You’re right, he’s home.” She looked at the lit screen of her phone, accented her beautiful features in the darkness of the Jeep. “Mom and Dad are going to be another hour, or so. Apparently, they’re helping Mr. Cole clean up, so… ass-kissing is what they really mean.” She turned in her seat, facing Cade. She smiled and took his hand in hers. “I appreciate you taking me out tonight, I mean it. Whatever this was, I needed it, so… thank you.” He'd had fun, spending the rest of their trip just enjoying being with her, listening to her plans for everyone else, and couldn't help but smile. She was enjoying herself, despite what she'd said. As she held his hand, he simply wrapped it around hers gently. "You are welcome, Marissa. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it too." He just smiled at her, rubbing the back of her hand gently. "They'll all thank you too, once they see the results of tonight's excursion." His grin widened just a bit as his eyes met hers in the dim light of her phone. "While I look forward to seeing everyone all decked out like never before, my gaze will be focused on you." He lightly kissed her knuckle softly. Corny, sure, but completely true. This would end, there was no denying that, but he would do all he could to see to it that they both enjoyed their time together. That was what mattered. She narrowed her eyes at him as if questioning his motives just a moment before she leaned up to him and kissing him gently. “You’re so full of it,” she smirked as she slowly pulled away. “But you’re cute, so…”. With a wink she slid out of his Jeep and smiled one last time as she walked up to and into her home. Her keys jingled as she entered the dark foyer of her home. Her boot heels echoed on the hard wood floors as she made her way to the stairs that would lead her up to her room for a welcome rest after an afternoon of shopping. A purple flash from the kitchen threshold to her right caught her attention and when she turned her head to investigate and saw her brother standing there, glaring at her in silent judgement. She sighed as she faced him, rolling her eyes in preemptive frustration. “What?” She huffed. “What’re you doing?” He asked simply. Devin gestured to the front of the house at Cade backing out of their driveway. “Everyone knows, Emjay, so what the hell is that?” “We just went out shopping, okay? And what do you care?” she gestured to him, dismissing his judgements outright. “I don’t need your permission to go out with a guy.” “No, you don’t.” He shrugged. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m looking at how your actions can affect Cade. We both know he’s head over for you, have you given any thought to how your games are going to affect him in the long run?” Marissa, visibly annoyed, walked to the fridge and withdrew a bottle of water, cracked the cap and took a drink. “I’m not playing games, Deej. Look, I appreciate you trying to be all in my business, but I’m not about to take advice from my brother who chases every skirt that crosses his path. Cade and I talked, and I promised him Homecoming. We had a deal; I’m honoring my end.” “You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Devin laughed. “you told a guy you’d sleep with him until Homecoming if he pretended to be your boyfriend? Do you have any, fucking, idea, how messed up you sound?” “What? No,” she shook her head, chuckling with a mixture of frustration with her brother and amused by him assuming he knew what was going on with her relationships. “I never agreed to sleep with him as part of the arrangement. I chose to sleep with. I came onto him. I initiated it.” “No surprise there.” Her brother quipped with a chuckle. “Don’t be a dick.” She snapped at him for making fun of Cade. “He’s not a bad guy. For the sake of appearances at school, we’re not going to ‘end it’ until Homecoming. That way we can keep it clean, and I promised him I’d help hook him up with someone else, when he’s ready.” Her brother folded his arms and looked at her, slowly raising an eyebrow. She huffed and shrugged, letting her hands drop to her sides. “Yes, okay? Yes. I’ll probably still sleep with him. So what? He’s my first, and he’s damn good at it.” “Because you have such a base for comparison, no doubt.” He mused at her expense. “Em, I don’t care who you’re sleeping with, I’m worried about how it’s going to affect Cade. He’s falling for you, or already has and you’re sole schtick sis is to tease people’s emotions. Have you given any thought to how dragging this on with him might affect him in the long run?” The water bottle raised to her lips lowered more slowly as his words struck her with ideas she hadn’t considered. “I don’t mess with people heads, Devin.” She said, considering for a moment that she really didn’t understand how her powers worked. “I don’t force people to do anything.” “Do you not?” he said softly. “Marissa, we’re all sixteen and none of us have ever been in love or know what it’s like. All we have is what we’ve read or seen on TV… if your power causes him to fall too far, and then you take that away… how is that going to go over with him? Have you even thought about that?” She stiffened her jaw and glared back at him, offended that he would even have the nerve to preach morality to her after all that he was complicit to in their three years of bullying and manipulating the back water student body of Shelly High. “No.” Her reply came coldly and without consideration for Cade or his feelings. “I’ve warned him, and he doesn’t care. Frankly, I’m not his babysitter, Devin, so if he can’t let go and falls absolutely in love me, then that’s his problem. In the meantime, I might as well be getting laid, right? Now, while I appreciate your concern, kindly fuck off so I can go get some sleep.” She exited the kitchen, taking her water with her as she marched up the stairs to her room.
  3. Part 2 With her expensive tastes, Holiday Village Mall wasn’t what Marissa considered ‘shopping’, which was why she’d reduced herself to mostly online shopping these days for the things she needed/wanted. At this point, she was an expert at eyeballing not only her own size but others as well and could have easily ordered Homecoming dresses for all the Fellowdivas with nothing more than a casual glance, a credit card, and a hope that they’d at least show up showered and wearing her gift to them. Still, it was all these people had so she’d learn to accept that they couldn’t miss something they’d never experienced, like looking presentable in public. “I decided on purple,” she answered Cade’s question calmly about color dress she’d decided on for Homecoming while filing through a series of men’s shirts on a rack. She took one off and gave it a quick once over, made a face as if the pattern had inspired her to vomit, and put it back. “It wasn’t my first choice, or even my third, but I got vetoed and had to settle on something more ‘age appropriate’,” she air quoted. “Your mom?” Cade smiled as he looked at her and riffled through shirts as well. Somehow they’d gotten on the subject of the school’s dress code, a touchy subject for the fashionista in conservative Montana. “School board,” she smiled back. “I still can’t get over how uptight you people are here. Did you know at thirteen my mom could send me off to school in heels back in Malibu and not a single faculty member would bat an eyelash because at least three to four other girls in my class were wearing the same. Here? They are on my ass every other day like I’m wearing club stilettos and all my business is hanging out for everyone to see. I think I’ve worn like, two low cut shirts to school so far this year, and my heels are completely reasonable, except the other week when I got sent home on lunch to change my boots.” “We’ve been back at school for less than a month, Marissa.” Cade pointed out. “And those were five-inch heels. You should have known they were going to blow a gasket.” “Those boots matched the outfit perfectly, so an exception should have been made, but that’s not the point,” she huffed, sliding a dress shirt off the rack and handing it to him. “Here, try this.” As she went back to sifting through apparel she pressed on with her original point if there was one. “It’s like you savages want to keep your women caked in mud and clueless about how great they can look so they don’t realize how much better than you they could do.” "Well I wouldn't mind a bit of mudwrestling with you, but you don't like getting dirty like that." he teased back as he took the shirt. "And you already know how amazing you look, and that you can have pretty much anyone you want." She’d had almost flushed at his boldness were her impeccable composure not there to steal away his thunder. There was something about today that seemed different about Cade and she couldn’t, for the life of her, quite put her finger on it. More open? Bolder? To her it felt like he was more interested in being her boyfriend now they’d been ousted by her brother than when he was supposed to be all in acting like her significant other. Still, she liked this other side of him and at his reply she curled her lips into a grin and leaned up to him. Her tongue met his lips before hers did, gently painting their target before she got there to lay waste to his willpower. The more she kept saying there were no labels, the more confused it made him because she sure kissed him like she was all in. “That’s a kind of dirty I think my mind could wrap around,” she cooed a moment after their kiss ended. He regained his breath as he followed behind her. "This is the middle of Montana, one of the most conservative states in the US. Of course, the adults here are uptight as hell. Most of the teenagers are too. I mean hell the football team engages in cow tipping or getting completely hammered at parties as a weekly past time. Parties the adults know happen, and probably know where they happen, they just let them do it anyway." When she turned to look at him he just grinned. "Of course I knew about them. Even though football wasn't my thing before this week, and I hardly ever went, it's a small town. It's kind of hard not to know about that sort of thing. A lot of the players on the football team play other sports, some run track, others baseball. I'm more amazed that everything else going on has taken so long to come to light if we're being honest." He chuckled. "This place isn't really ready for you, or your brother. I mean holy crap I looked up what his bike cost, just on a whim. Probably more than anything another student has in the lot, aside from your Mercedes. You're used to the bleeding edge of fashion and, well, seemingly everything else, and we're more on the back end of trends, and that's okay in my book." She giggled at his appraisal while they approached the dressing rooms. “Oh trust me, I know. I wish, I just wish, Autumn would let me give her a makeover and do the upkeep, you know? Ugh, she could be so damn hot, total diva even, but she likes her muck. Cassie too! Blondes, by default, have an easier time at everything in life but she’d rather grunge up and skateboard.” She turned to Cade and gave him a hardened glare and scoffed. “Can you believe it? Skateboarding? Ugh. Savages. I literally associate with savages!” He laughed and gently patted her on the shoulder. “And we appreciate all you endure.” “No you don’t,” she grinned at him, humored by him going along with a bit of humor. She pushed him toward the dressing room, rolling her eyes and smiling at him. “Now get in there. Come out looking like an eight plus, or don’t come out.” “Another kiss might help me keep focused on looking my best for you,” he grinned and leaned back out only to meet her palm pressing his face back into the dressing room. “Get in there,” she laughed, closing the door and walking away to go look at racks while he changed. In a way he was glad she was helping him; it would ensure he looked the part next to her at the dance. His grandfather had given him some advice, but his sense of style was older, and in the end his advice had been to dress comfortably. He'd given Cade some money to help, even though he hadn't asked. "Most would say the night is all about her, but I say it's about the both of you. Make sure you both have a good time. This will help, I'm sure." He remembered his grandfather saying, and Cade took it to heart. He shed the clothing he had on and changed into what Marissa had selected for him. They fit him perfectly, and he chuckled at the thought of it being no surprise she could simply eyeball his size. “Well,” he mused as he checked himself in the mirror. “She's had her hands over every inch of me enough...”. It looked good, and was easy enough to move in. He knew she had an eye for this, but he was impressed by how well she'd done. He raked his fingers through his hair and smiled. Out in the store Marissa walked the various racks, thumbing through a few random articles from shirts to pants. She wasn’t one for internal dialogue or talking to herself, unless really stressed, but for some reason her mind was tugging on the strings of her worry and concern for Cade. She shouldn’t have just kissed him, she knew that, but it felt good and almost natural that she was already doing it before she had a chance to stop herself. Cade wasn’t a permanent solution to any of her problems, in fact, he only added to them. She liked him, sure, but that didn’t help her situation with him any. Cade didn’t want like, he wanted, no, needed, someone to love and for that someone to love him. He was an old-fashioned guy with a big… heart, and deep-down Marissa knew she was only going to end up hurting him. Maybe not intentionally, but she would, because the day was going to come when she found new a toy and she wasn’t sure he would understand why she didn’t want him anymore. Internally she chastised herself for leading him on while she sifted through a selection of what could only be the worst Hawaiian patterned shirts she’d ever seen on the clearance summer rack. Looking up only long enough to see if the attendant working the counter was still staring at her. He’d been ogling her since they walked in, possibly wondering how Cade ended up on her arm, and since her abilities began to manifest, she discovered a lot more people doing it, just staring at her like they were just mesmerized by how attractive she was. If she said she didn’t like it, she’d have been lying. She savored the attention. Cade finished and emerged from the changing room wearing the clothing she'd picked out and smiled at her. She looked up at the guy behind the counter and shot him a sensuous wink accented with a devilish smirk while she broke off from her clothing rack inspection to approach her… friend with benefits(?). "I think you did a great job, but your opinion matters too, since you're gonna be dancing with me. So, what do you think?" There was a confidence in his voice that was more pronounced, it didn't sound like resignation, or that he was trying to impress. It was genuine, and very, very him. “My opinion?” Her tone was set back into that pitch of the person in control of everyone and everything. “That’s cute.” She whirled her finger about him as she appraised her work. “This? Is not a request, Cadums. I can’t have you showing up in Wranglers or a hat measured in gallons and embarrassing myself or the Fellowdivas.” She took a good look at him, taking it all in and smiled, pleased with herself. With a sigh she fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt and straightened the collar before finally patting him on his broad chest and looked up at him, smiling her approval. Cade chuckled at the hat comment. "I don't even have that sort of hat. I'm not a cowboy, or someone who'd ever pretend to be." He answered her even as he changed back to his regular clothing. “Uh huh,” she agreed in a playfully doubtful tone. “So you say. Why do you have to be so god-damned yummy?” She asked rhetorically, knowing he had no idea the thoughts she was wrestling with in her head. “Okay, looks great. Get in there and change so we can get that and move on to makeup for Autumn.” She spun him around and playfully pushed him back in the dressing room. “Ugh, you guys are so lucky I’m here for you.” ---===[*]===--- Bags in hand they walked the lanes of the mall, passing the scents of baking pretzels, Cinnabon, and cookies, all which Marissa made a solemn vow to revisit after the makeup mission was completed. She’d already battled herself once not to hold his hand and again not to wrap around his arm as they walked along. She felt comfortable with him, but this wasn’t real, and despite how good it felt to feel like what she had with him was meaningful, it was a lie. Just a ruse they’d concocted to get under Autumn and Jase’s skin… for all the good that did. “Hey,” she started, pursing her lips to force the conversation she felt needed to be had. “So, um, I’m on the Squad now, as you know, and the other girls are totally into you. Well, you and a few other guys on the team, but my point is… have you considered asking any of them out? After Homecoming, I mean, obvs. I’d totally talk you up, and guys usually get over break ups faster anyways, so you know… let me know who you like, or I can make a few recommendations and get you back in the saddle of the Shelly dating scene.” As they walked, she brought up cheerleading, and then pointedly reminded him about how after Homecoming, this would end. He sighed. "Not really no. I've not really thought about it. I grew up with most of the girls in town my age, I mean it's not like Shelly's a big town or anything. I'd gone to a couple dances, but I'd never kissed a girl before Cora. My life was all about the outdoors, sports, and hanging out with my friends. None of the girls ever really "clicked" with me. I figured by now, all of them were actually with someone already." it was odd, he didn't have as much confidence in this aspect in his life. Certainly, with Marissa at least, and the track and baseball teams, he knew where he stood, and had confidence, but not so much with the rest of the student body. He shrugged. "I'll just play it by ear. I don't want to seem like I'm just dating someone to rebound after you. Anyone I'd date would just try to live up to your impossible ideal and fail completely to see why I actually do like you." In part his comment was a bit of a tease, and the latter a truth he was honest about. His ’date’ chuckled, adding a slight roll to her eyes as her faux bae, once again, showed ‘sit around and wait for the world to deliver me X’ mentality. “If you want to play it by ear, okay. I’m not going to pressure you.” She stopped and tugged his arm, signaling for him to stop for a moment and talk with her. “Okay, that not entirely true. Can I ask you something?” “Shoot.” He said with a dismissive shrug. “You are an athlete. You should understand how confidence works more than anyone. Did you spring into this world with all the knowledge of baseball, hunting, football, and kung fu automatically downloaded into your mind? No. You had to learn. You had to take chances and fail, and by proxy have your confidence shattered a few times, and try again over and over until you got it right, which in turn built your confidence back up and taught you that ambition coupled with application will result in success.” She sighed and shook her head, expressing her words with gestures as she looked up at the giant teen. “So how can you not apply that to something as simple as dating? What’s the worse she’s going to tell you? ‘No’? Hell, I even have you covered on that front to reduce the ‘no factor’ down to nil.” She took his hand in hers and looked up at him with those perfect dark eyes of hers that always hid more than they showed. “Cadums, Coyote practically said it himself: I’m designed to be genetically perfect. You’re not going to find another girl that lives up the standard I’ve set. My voice is hypnotic, my kisses are sweeter, my touch electric… and, well, we both know what this kitty can do to you,” she smirked at him, and he tried not to share a bashful grin with her, but he looked away, slightly embarrassed. He knew she wasn’t wrong, even if she had a very grim way of looking at the topic. While they spoke, he couldn’t help but notice the way every guy around them couldn’t help but steal a glance in her direction, and even a few in his as if to ask how he ended up with her. Everywhere they went people couldn’t help but notice her. “My point is: you can’t sit around pining for me or anyone else. We will all end up with that one person in our lives who was ‘the standard’ or ‘the one that got away’. Whether it’s the best sex we ever had, or someone we clicked with on every level, or the infamous ‘soulmate’ who we might spend a summer with and never seen them again. No one you meet will ever live up to that experience, and that’s okay. It’s high school, you and those abs I adore so much, should be out there enjoying and practicing for Miss Right, not waiting for her to fall into your lap.” She couldn’t believe she was using the ‘level up’ strategy again so soon after Jase, but in Cade’s case she meant it. Him sitting around waiting on her to fall in love in him was just going to ruin him in the long run and while she would never admit it, she cared about him too much to not see him enjoy some semblance of happiness. “If anything, talk to Autumn, she’s grown rather proficient at fucking my cast offs. Just don’t waste your last couple years in high school. I have like three guys on my to-do list after Homecoming,” she looked off as if recalling a thought and sighed in dismay. “Well, two and a tentative third. My brother is being difficult about kidnapping Chris Hemsworth.”
  4. "I'm in," Devin didn't need convincing one way or the other. He was the picture of bored and whether he was saving the world alone or squashing spy drama with the Fellowship, at least he was doing something. Anything to keep his mind off not being friends with Tawny anymore. "But it totally better involve us and dinner." He never stopped making passes at her, and Annette smiled and rolled her eyes in the usual 'here we go' fashion. "Me taking us anywhere in the world you want to go, you in the shortest dress you can find. I know I could use a weekend getaway." Marissa scoffed at her brother, accenting it with a snort. "She's way out of your league, dumb ass, when are you going to wake up? Also, twice your age. She would destroy you." "Maybe," he shrugged casually, keeping his suave composure. "Perhaps that's what I need? An intelligent, mature woman to make a man out of me." All Annette could do was shake her head and softly chuckle to herself. "Could we not talk about me as if I wasn't present?" She asked with just enough mirth in her voice to let them know that she wasn't offended, she just wanted to get back to the problem they were facing. "While I ever so enjoy being the object of your teenage lust, Devin, there are no dress purchases, short or otherwise, nor any dinner plans, until this problem is resolved." "Rain check, got it." He looked at his sister and offered her a victorious smile. "It wasn't a 'no'." He said to her. "Well, we can't go probing the minds of everyone at The Project," Marissa offered, adding her own shrug to the mixture while simultaneously rolling her eyes at her brother. "I'm sure the Fellowship would find some moral objection to it." "Like the fact that it's immoral, perhaps?" Annette pitched her logic with a hint of sarcasm. "So people get a quick mind peek, what's the big deal? We've all given up freedoms and dreams to do this. We've given up the rest of our normal high school years and beyond to battle demons and cults. Lilly sacrificed her dreams of competing in the Olympics, Jason's being targeted by hit squads every other day-" "-yeah, but he's a dick, so I kind of see that one as more of inevitably than as a result of us being godlings." Marissa interjected. "Fair." Devin tilted his head towards his shoulder as he shrugged. "Plus, if they're brainwashed into believing they're doing the right thing, it might not register them as a guilty party. I don't know. I'm not sure how telepathy works." "Perhaps," Marissa raised a finger in thought. "What if we set up a mock operation to goad them into rescinding orders again? Or have Cassie do her 'into the past' thing? We have options, I'm afraid we've just never planned a sting before," she scrunched up her face apologetically. "Sorry. We'll help any way we can though, just name it."
  5. "I think we all would," Marissa said calmly to Tawny. She whole heartedly agreed with the lovely blonde, and while she and Tawny had no pending issues personally, Marissa couldn't help but hold a slight grudge for her after the way she treated her brother after he risked his life to save her. She knew her brother was infuriating sometimes, but there were ways to handle the differences between Devin and her and Tawny, she felt, over reacted in the extreme. Of course, her brother did too, still was as a matter of fact, but no matter how close she and Tawny were, Devin was Marissa's brother and she'd always choose him over her. "But I don't think you have to worry about that 'other place'." She gestured towards Jacob while keeping her amiable expression on Tawny. "I'm sure Jacob here will be more than willing to throw himself in the way of any monster his frail human frame can't hope to harm, and die heroically even, if it would keep you safe. Isn't that right Mat-, uh, Jacob?" She looked to Jacob, letting her hypnotic stare burrow back down into his heart and... other places. "Just remember to thank him for his sacrifice," her wicked grin pursed into razorblade-like thinness, which Tawny recognized from a hundred paces after years in the Jauntsen household with the Twins. "It'd be more than my brother got." She let the knife plunge as deep as it would go into her blonde counterpart's heart. Tawny was already an emotional wreck and Marissa knew she still harbored mega-feels for Devin, and until the bastion of innocence and her ass-hat brother fixed themselves, they were fair game on being called out for the idiots they were. After years of knowing Tawny, the Queen of Mean knew exactly where to plunge the dagger of guilt and leave her with her burdens. Given enough abuse, Tawny's pure soul would have her believing everything was her fault in no time at all, possibly even blaming herself for the reason all kitten eventually become cats and then later, die. "Well, I doubt you two have had any time to spend together that didn't involve a hospital bed, so I'll leave you two to catch up. Also you two look adorable together, I'm really happy for you both." She looked to Tawny, tapping her shoulder playfully. "I'm so glad you've broke out of your shell and boyfriended-up. I'm so proud," she teased before looking back to Jacob. "Offer stands, to both of you. If you want to talk, I'm here. Things are messed up, I've not slept in days without nightmares, so, a phone call or texts to vent might do us all some good, I don't know... anyways, I'll leave you two to be... newly in lust with one another." She tipped back, swallowing the last of her champagne and setting the flute down in a gesture that caused her to have to lean around Jacob, letting him be intoxicated by the scent of her perfume, hair and wafting evil. Turning to walk away she winked at Tawny, smiling and mouthing something silently to indicate she approved of the blonde's tasted in men, it was the closest Marissa came to offering high-fives and generally only when it came to hot guys. She left them alone to wonder and also to be alone. If Jacob was who Tawny chose, then Devin would have to live with that, but as an outside observer to their drama Marissa didn't see any reason she couldn't have a little fun while they made their decisions. Away from most of the others she slid her phone out from the small clutch she carried and tapped a text out to her brother. "Annette." was all it said. Devin slid his phone from his jacket pocket when it chimed and looked at the message. Silently he stood and with purpose to his stride left the poolside to meet up with his sister.
  6. Ugh, he was insufferable. She was pretty sure Autumn could slaughter his whole family, be standing there with the bloodied murder weapon and he'd forgive her under the guise of it all being some misunderstanding. His loyalty was admirable, sure, but Marissa didn't do loyalty. Frankly, she didn't do betrayal either. In order for there to be betrayal there had to be trust and the Fellowship was quite clear that there was positively no trust between them. If Jason could play games with Marissa's emotions and help himself to her friends, there was no reason Marissa couldn't help herself to Autumn's. "Music to my ears," she smiled, daintily accepting his hand. "So, look, Jacob I don't want to come on too strong, but," she sighed while smiling sympathetically. Jacob hated himself for being attracted to her. His eyes traced her bare shoulders and the way the black fabric of her dress mingled perfectly with her smooth alabaster skin. He hung on her every word, clung to every syllable. Her voice enchanted him like every melody was for him and him alone. To Marissa's credit, it wasn't all her fault. He would have desired her anyway, even passively she wrapped men around her finger with her impossible beauty, but driven by her spiteful passions and having little mastery of her abilities, everything about her that was more than human, more than desirable, rose to the surface and back handed poor Jacob. She gently let go of his hand, and casually sipped her champagne. "To be brutally honest, Jacob, you're in the middle of a scenario where all of your friends have super human abilities and are off saving the world and fighting demons... and... frankly you're the only normal human among us. I've totally seen this on Vampire Diaries. Jacob, you're Matt. He spent eight seasons pining after Elena, his childhood friend, while all she did was play vampire games and trade brother to sleep with." She rest her palm on his chest with more familiarity in her gentle touch than she should have had in such a short amount of time with her new friend. "What I'm trying to say is, that all of this will be overwhelming and waiting days and weeks for your 'friends' to get their acts together before they feel you're ready to learn things will most likely get you killed at some point." Her eyes traced him up and down. "And I'd really hate for that to happen. Soooo, if there's something you want to know or want to talk about things that are probably way over both our heads I'm not going to turn you away. You deserve the truth, and let's face it, I have a lot karma to burn off."
  7. Marissa's face scrunched up in confusion more and more as he explained things until finally when he was finished she shook her head, looking completely flabbergasted. "Cody, powers... Jacob what're you talking about? I was talking about Jason's surprise birthday party. What do you mean 'Tawny might have powers too'?" "What?" Jacob looked perplexed as the thought of Marissa possibly 'not in the know' suddenly gripped him. He'd possibly spilled secrets to who was possibly the worst person in the world to tell a secret to, aside from Cassie, of course. "I thought... because you all were hanging out... b-birthday?" Flustered he tried to make sense of his thoughts as the convincing brunette continued to look at him like he's gone mad. After a few seconds that felt like an eternity to him her expression broke into a smile then finally a chuckle. She tapped his arm, reassuringly messaging his arm. "Jacob," she was still chuckling. "I'm messing with you." He sighed in relief, and contemplated a homicide. "That's not funny," he was obviously irritated. "What is your problem, why are you always messing with people?" "I couldn't help it," she giggled. "You just sort of blurted it all out, and the look on your face was priceless." He shook his head, not buying a bit of it. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Sounds like you got the Cliff's Notes, yes. I find it unfortunate that your childhood friend hasn't trusted you with more," she gave him a once over, appraising the handsome childhood friend of her bestie. Her inner manipulator couldn't help but try and pull what strings he could to yank him towards seeing her in the best possible light while painting all those not her as untrustworthy. After all, Marissa Jauntsen was angelic beacon of trustworthiness. "What exactly happened between you two?" Before he could reply she waved her hands as if her question to him wasn't important. "Look, never mind that." She sighed, looking into his eyes. "Jacob, I was horrible to Autumn and the others. I know that. Working with the others against Not-Cody was the catalyst I needed to wake up. I know you have no reason to trust me, and that's fair, totally fair, so all I'm asking for is a chance. Give me a little time, like they did, and you'll see that I'm different. So can we stop being at each others throats and at the very least be allied with the potential for possible friendship?"
  8. Totally Not A Date Part 1 I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light. -Helen Keller With everything going on with the funeral in the morning, Cade's family kept him on a short leash at the wake. Still, being surrounded by people, well it left Cade wanting to get away for a while, somewhat reluctantly, his parents agreed. He wasn't sure about where exactly he was going to go, though Great Falls was the most likely place. Still, he wanted to get away, and despite everything, he didn't exactly want to be alone. His first thought was to call Marissa and see if she wanted to go with him, just to get away for a while. He quickly realized she could go pretty much anywhere, just by asking Devin, but he wanted to spend some time with her. "I guess I've got it really bad, even after being rejected." Her rejection didn't change how he felt, but he would respect her feelings. This wasn't a date he told himself, almost enough to believe it. He pulled out his phone and dialed her number. “Thanks again,” Garret said as Marissa offered him a soft, yet empty smile. Her intentions were benevolent, but there was no feeling or warmth in them. She was simply devoid of empathy it seemed, yet still introducing Garret to Sean at the reception was a simple enough task and now that the two had met he’d leave her alone about it. She shrugged dismissively, drawing attention to her perfectly sculpted neck and shoulders, which everyone knew was the only reason she wore that dress to something she knew everyone was going to be at. “Least I could do after you were there when I fainted. No big.” “Still, you didn’t-“ Garret was cut off by the low sound of Marissa’s cellphone chipping quietly at Cade’s incoming call. She swiped and when she was confident the line was open, her tone shifted to one filled with practiced mirth and emotion. “Text me later, Garret, I need to take this.” She stepped away, only moving a few strides before the fake smile and newly discovered emotional joy in the voice were no longer needed to let Cade know she some other guy was on her ‘text me’ list, which, despite her popularity, was a pretty short list. The Fellowship, a few girls at school, like Courtney, Tawny… and everyone else was forced to leave a comment on her TikToks or Twaddle posts if they wanted to get her attention. “What?” She asked, already sounding bored with the conversation. He knew her well enough to know she was just playing more games, yet still, he extended his invite. "Hey. I'm going to go out for a while, just to get away from everything here.” “And?” He could see the light shrug she offered while she zipped one of her silver pendants she wore back and forth across the chain around her neck. “I wanted to invite you to come along, if you'd like.” Already cut off, this was a fabulous idea. She sighed, more a relaxing release of tense energy than her usual unbridled, ‘nothing left of her victim but a husk’, attitude. “I’m so not in the mood fo-“ “I'm not talking about going fishing, or out in nature.” He interjected before she went nuclear. “How does Great Falls strike you?" Her maroon lips pressed gently against her pendant as she bit down on it softly while in thought. Was it a bad idea to go out with him, knowing how he felt about her? Oh, most certainly. The guy was a walking red flag and she was a certifiable lunatic (which she accepted, but didn’t admit to because she didn’t like putting labels on things). However… she looked amazing in red, pasta was her spirit animal and there was an Olive Garden in Great Falls. “Fine,” she agreed suddenly and with confidence in her tone that Cade wasn’t quite expecting. “Pick me up at my house so I can change out of these rags,” when she paused Cade thought that was it and it all went smoother than he thought it would. “The poolside door will be unlocked. Let yourself in… and bring a condom.” She’d hung up before he could protest and her phone was already in her small, designer clutch purse. --==[@]==-- The fist fifteen minutes of the trip was awkward silence. Neither talked about the sex, aside from agreeing that it was amazing. At first, she found it adorable that he was reluctant to be with her casually, considering the state of their relationship (or lack thereof) but in the end teenage hormones won out and Cade was left to wonder if Marissa would get some sick sort of thrill the next time the Jauntsens had a family dinner and she thought about what the two of them did on their dining room table. As she reapplied her makeup in his visor mirror, he broke the silence with an aching feeling he'd probably regret it later. "So, I've got an idea for where to eat but other than walking around the mall, is there anything you'd like to do? Stores you'd like to go to, or something like that?" He had a vague outline in his head for a couple of things he wanted to do, consideration dictated that he should get her input as well. More than anything though, He just wanted to get away from home for a bit. “I need to get some eyeliner,” she said to him without looking away from the mirror. “And look at a few shades of lip color. Seeing Cassie today reminded me that I might have to go with a few different shades before we find the one that pops. Her and Autumn both have incredibly kissable lips, but Autumn’s complexion is easy to match, Cassie might be trickier and I going for Fellowdiva domination at Homecoming. Everything has to be perfect. If Jason and my brother are not trying to put a ring on it from the moment they lay eyes on them, I've not done my job.” "Well, I promise no hunting and fishing stores, unless we just completely run out of options." He already had pretty much everything he needed on that score, even if those were stores, he knew he could while away the hours in, they weren't something he thought she'd enjoy and there were plenty of other options for ways the two could spend the afternoon and evening. “Oh, I think we’ll be okay,” she looked at him, smirking playfully before going back to doing her lashes. After few more flicks of the brush she profiled once, then twice, before dropping back in the seat, flipping the mirror back up. “All done. And I bet you thought it’d take me hours, huh?” It was obvious she was still bothered by all the drama. Spontaneous FWB sex, deflection, and of course her famous ‘just act like there is no problem’ routine. Cade knew her better than she gave him credit for. He wanted to ask if she was okay, but knew she'd just shut him out again and he wasn't in the mood for that rollercoaster. "You look great, always." He said, meaning it. He was still a bit confused internally, but at least he could compliment her earnestly and honestly. She smiled at his words, but she was born perfect. Of course she was beautiful, according to Coyote that’s what she was designed to be: super-hot. While the why still escaped her, she knew Cade didn’t mean anything by his words and was only trying to be nice. “That’s sweet, thank you. But you know, while you were born to be like this awesome Spartan, I was sort of made to be like some super-fuck doll, so… telling me I look great is kind of a given. I know I look great. I’m designed to be.” “Perhaps,” Cade nodding in agreement at her reasoning. “Fine. No one quite makes children cry the way you do, Marissa. You have a real gift.” She inhaled deeply, pressing her palm to her chest dramatically. “You mean that? Oh, Cade,” her voice mingled with poor acting, surprise, and a dab of sarcasm. “No one’s ever noticed before! You’re so good to me!” She leaned over and clutched his arm like a lovesick country girl. They laughed for a moment as he mocked her mocking him and she held him close, until they didn’t laugh anymore and were just driving and she was just holding him still, unable it seemed, to let go. She thought about it, about how it might seem awkward for her to be so close to him, to hold him and send signals that would only confuse things. She felt safe though and that only made her comfortably want to knead her claws in his flesh and get comfortable after a few rotations. Yet, inside her, it didn’t feel right, he was kind, and he was warm. He was decent and good. And well… She wasn’t and she knew she would only hurt him in the end. So, why couldn’t she let go? She grabbed his arm and they laughed. It felt good, almost natural. It was always a beautiful sound to him, not her bitchy fake laugh he heard at school if something merited such a response from her, this was a real one, and he couldn't help but sigh at the end. "You're more than the hottest women I've ever seen, though. Your words can change minds, lift up someone's spirits, and give them hope. Or you can crush them and leave them in despair. I've seen you do both. That may not be some flashy superpower like the others have, but it’s still real power. You can get things done in ways the rest of us can’t. You focus a lot on the negatives, Marissa. I understand being prepared for the worst, that's pragmatic, but you’re always such a fatalist." She leaned up and away from him, letting go of his arm so she could inspect him at a better angle. “Woooow,” she cooed, sounding impressed. “A little casual sex and all of a sudden you’re calling the shots, huh?” He side-eyed her, his face a sarcastic expression that told her he was trying to be serious. As he went back to watching the road she followed up. “Cade, people don’t want hope and the only minds people want changed are those that think like the minds of those in control so they're more in line with whomever is the Alpha-dog.” “Look at this place.” She gestured to indicate the world as a whole, but mostly caught the exit sign letting them know that food and gas was a mile up the road. “People want money, power, to be that alpha-dog. That’s why people with money and power rule and make the rules while also being exempt from them. This planet is one big war, one big ball of the have’s lording over the have nots and that’s never going to change. I don’t deal in hope Cade, I allow people to touch some semblance of importance in their lives by allowing them to vicariously share my majesty by being their ‘friend’, their Boss, CEO, Queen Bee, if you're feeling dramatic. I can’t give ambition to those without any, nor should I have to.” "Give yourself more credit. You've been a bitch to people, sure. We all know you can be selfish, and at times, in their way, everyone is. You're more than that, though. I mean yeah, I can hear the sarcasm and a bit of condescension, like when you talk about Autumn and Cassie, but you are still helping them. You want them to look great. I have no doubt all of you will turn heads, though you'll likely be the one who turns them all.” She playfully craned her head, feigning bashfulness at the truth. “I don't profess to know you, not nearly as well as I'd like to. But I do know from the short amount of time and tiny windows into your life you have shared that you're not a completely horrible person. You care for your friends. We care about you too." It wasn't like he was admonishing her, even though he’d called her a bitch. Cade was, in his own awkward fashion, trying to help. She'd wanted his honesty when this all began, and that was still what she was going to get from him. It was the last part that drained the smile from her face, still, she didn’t seem angry or upset, only saddened. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Cade. You’re sweet and a great guy, and if you tell anyone I said that I will never send you a single underwear pic again.” “Lips are sealed,” he smirked. “No one trusts me, Cade and that’s only half the problem. I don’t trust any of you guys either. It was my mother Cade, mine. And you guys seem to think that I should have spilled the beans and risked her life on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, you would get your shit together well enough to not get her killed? I’m sorry, I wasn’t willing to take that risk, and in the future, I won’t take it either if the Fellowship is still as proficient in dipshittery as it is now. You’re not a reliable bunch. Great at barbeques and doing telekinetic airplanes, but not the sort of people one wants handling anything important.” It was her turn to sigh now as adjusted in her seat. So far, she was simply talking, not a single scream or yell of rage in frustration which he took as a good, if not out of character sign for her. “Even if all was forgiven there’s still the problem of me not trusting any of you, which, I’m sorry, I don’t. The battle with Not-Cody opened my eyes and I was ready to accept that I was wrong. I was sold, all-in and ready to be a part of this Fellowship thing… then Jason got shot in the face and apparently that’s all my fault. Hm, gee, I don’t know… maybe if you don’t like getting shot in the face, don’t be the kind of violent psychopath that people might wanna shoot in the fucking face! Fucking retard.” She huffed after her minor melt down but pressed on. “I thought it would go differently, that you guys would accept me and forgive me and understand that all I wanted to do was protect my mom, so I went to the professionals at the Project… instead, you burned me at the stake, and I won’t ever let you do that to me again.” There was a long, awkward silence in the jeep as the two digested what the other had said. She sighed and traced her nails through her long hair as she rest her arm on the sill of the passenger window. To anyone on the outside looking in, they appeared exactly like stressed out couple going through tough times. “Hey,” she softly said in an almost apologetic tone. “I was kind of thinking Olive Garden for food, what were you thinking?” "Olive Garden, actually. I haven't eaten there in a while." He smiled as she raised a perfect eyebrow. "I do actually eat food I didn't kill and clean myself you know. I left the clubs and stones back at home." There was a moment of silence as the eyebrow remained raised. He drove on quietly. “It’s not that,” she eyed him a little longer before turning her attention to absently watching the scenery pass them by. “You just always seem to read my mind. I need a Snickers; you happen to have one. I want to go to Olive Garden; you were already planning on going there. You’re allowed to disagree with me you know? If you had somewhere else in mind, maybe it was a better idea than mine, my point is… we don’t always have to do everything I want to do and you don’t have to cater to my every whim. I’m not saying not to,” she smirked and glanced at him. “By all means, pamper and spoil me, but Cade… please don’t kiss my ass just to stay on my good side, that shit is so fake and,” she paused, almost at a loss for how continue on with what she was saying. Finally, she just grunted and fumed and said it. “Well, we’re closer than that, right? I mean, we’re each other’s firsts, you’re a jock, I’m a cheerleader, we’re kind of sleeping together, we saved the world the other day…” “We’re friends,” he said, glancing at her then back to the road. “It’s okay, you can say it.” “I’m trying to open up here,” she glared at him. “Say the ‘F’ word again and I’ll open you up.” “Okay,” he laughed. “Okay, have it your way. You know, I hope one day you'll change your mind, and realize you can trust the Fellowship. Or at the very least, you can trust me." His words were quiet, and it seemed like he was thinking, recalling that meeting. “I did change my mind. I did trust them.” She swept out her arms slowly, palms up. “And here we are.” "Alright, fair enough. Look, you faced a hard choice, and had the strength to make it. Still, you weren't actively working against any of us, or trying to get us killed. You went to get help from others who do have experience with that sort of thing. I do understand you not trusting the group. We're all a bunch of weirdos. Getting the whole group on the same page is like herding cats and takes twice as long." "I'll say it again. I don't think you made the wrong choice. Both options were equally terrible. You chose to protect yourself and your family. I can understand that choice. Until I must make that choice, I can't tell you which way I'd decide. I don't think anyone really can." He sighed, keeping his attention on the road. "I've thought about it, you know. What if he'd come to me with that? It wouldn't be hard to take out my family. Before it was kinda just us in Danger, because the Dark wanted to feed on us. Now, well whatever Enterich is, he's more than willing to use other humans against us, and to threaten our families. This is going to be alot harder to deal with. I do believe our best bet is to fight back together, but if we all try to do things as one group, well our response will be too slow to adapt to any changes. Cade sighed. "I don't honestly expect you and Jason to reconcile. He's not all there, way worse than he was before he found out he had powers. It's like he’s forgotten what it means to be human." It wasn't really a dig at Jason or his dad, but Jason had always seemed a bit off. Brilliant, but cold and aloof. The fact they gamed together like they did was somewhat surprising to Cade, even as he reflected back on it. "That Gaming table was truly a motley collection of misfits." He chuckled. "I'd invite you, but it might blow your cover, plus if word ever got out that you touched dice with dice with more or less than six sides, it might cause the grapevine at school to combust." “Yeah, no, I’m good,” she snorted her intent to never show up at one of their gaming sessions. “If you virgins want to play your Losers and Lame-Asses, far be it from me to stop you.” “Virgin,” he looked over to her. “Seriously? Marissa we just had sex on your dining room table not but forty-five minutes ago.” “Fuck off, you know what mean,” she huffed. “No, no, I really don’t.” He laughed. “Well, then fuck off anyway,” she slapped him in the arm playfully before turning back to the window. “Speaking of, though… you guys haven’t done that in a while. How come you nerds stopped gaming?” "I think part of why we haven't gamed is that so many people who sat at the table are gone, and that we've all had other things going on." He let out a sigh. "Sean and I have hung out, just the two of us, only once really since this all got started. Even that was more an offshoot of the testing of the gun I got from our Site B raid. For the record, actual taser rounds suck." “I can imagine,” she chuckled at the thought of Cade being shot with taser rounds. “We certainly have been busy, yeah,” she agreed. “So, not to tell you nerds your business, but, I think it’s not about who’s gone, it’s about who’s left, you know? Charlie loved gaming with you guys, I remember him talking with Sean and the others in class. I think you guys really need to make time, for Charlie.” He kept his eyes on the road, even though he hadn't seen another car since they left town. "So do you actually play online, or just write up campaigns? Are there video games you enjoy playing?" It was a real question about a secret they shared, and he smiled. “None of the above.” She expressed with a sigh. “I’ve never played that stupid game, and I never will. I read the books based in the various worlds like Ravenloft, and a lot of the Forgotten Realms novels. I got curious of the worlds and googled them, and ended up down a Wikipedia rabbit whole a few times trying to understand the monsters and places they mention in the novels. That’s why I know what a beholder is and why it has nineteen hit dice and a hundred and eighty hip points, but I’ve never played.” They drove on for several seconds in silence as Cade processed that and while he was still considering her words she spoke up. “No.” “You don’t even know what I was going to say,” he protested. “I will not ‘give it a try’. I’m mad at you asshats, I’m not in the mood to sit at a table and be bored for hours with you.” “Damn,” he said, smirking. “You did know. Spooky.” He shrugged and drove on. "I never really read the books beyond what I needed for character creation. My characters tend to not know, so I take that a step further and don't know myself. Makes it more fun and interesting not knowing exactly what to expect." “Sounds dreadfully boring, that much is certain.” He saw her eye roll reflected in the window as she was looking out over the scenery. It was a game so he could afford the luxury of just not knowing and going in totally blind. With what they were doing, none of them could afford to be ignorant. "Still, so you don't play D&D. Surely being Queen of the school isn't the only thing you do to have a good time. So what do you do to enjoy life Marissa?" The roll of the tires rumbled a rhythm beneath the vehicle for several moments as she continued to just look out the window, like she forgot she was in a conversation. “I don’t enjoy life.” He smiled, shaking his head at her never-ending supply of drama. "There has to be something that makes you happy, that you truly find fun." “Why?” She turned to look at him, lips pursed slightly like he’d touched a nerve. “Why does there have to be something?” She asked. “Moving here was the worst thing that ever happened in my life. I used to, used to, love performing. To be up on stage singing, dancing, doing whatever because that was the only time in my life that I knew my mother couldn’t touch me. No matter how well or poorly I performed, for a few minutes my life was mine to control. Then… then that was taken away from me, and then we moved here and, well it’s a shit hole.” She adjusted in her seat to angle herself towards him. “I don’t enjoy life, Cade. I cope with it. I don’t sing and dance anymore, I stay as high as I possibly can and now, I fuck the pain away, too. I don’t do fun, I do you. Happiness is for the girls in the books I read, that’s why I read them.” In his own way, he was trying to get to know her for real, and accepted that he should have been doing this from the start. Sure, he did cater to her, not because she expected him to, but because he wanted to do so. She wasn't his girlfriend, but they were more than just friends. Exposing his ignorance about her was perhaps not the best approach, but it was earnest and honest, he wanted to learn, because a real friend should know about their friend. He wasn't asking for any sort of information he wasn't prepared to give in return if she asked. "Goddamn Marissa, you do deserve to be happy." there was a tinge of anger in his voice, hearing her say at least in his mind, that she didn't deserve to be happy, that she was using drugs and him to cope with life. He'd hoped that he could at least make her happy in a small way, but clearly that just wasn't going to be in the cards. “I know I do.” She said firmly, like he wasn’t telling her anything new. “People deserve to have food and water and warm clothes and a roof over their head, Cade, but how many people in this world go without? I deserved a little honesty from Jason before he decided to fuck my best friend. I deserved a little credit and understanding when I was up front and honest with everyone and instead you decided to roast me in my own fucking home. Sometimes what we deserve isn’t always what we get. So… we cope.” This all seemed to be going somewhere she didn't want to go. Yet Cade realized that normally Marissa would have lost her mind on him by now, put her foot down and shut him down completely yet, she wasn’t. For the first time since he’d been seeing her the more, he stood his ground the more she stood hers. He wasn’t apologizing or trying to fix her, he was simply expressing his thoughts, after all, what was she going to do? Break up with him? Still, he erred on the side of caution and backed off a bit. She was obviously hurting and there was no point in rubbing salt on those rather fresh wounds. "I'd have liked to see you perform, if only to see you enjoying it." He offered with a passive shrug, knowing that saying didn’t make it so. Marissa certainly could have been the darling of the theater group at school, but she had her reasons for not getting involved. Still, he felt something needed to be said. Cade had always been a straightforward guy. He wasn’t much for guile, and he wasn’t big on ulterior motives, he just wanted to see her happy, and if that was what made her happy, he'd have sat through any number of school plays. He remembered that smile when she caught the fish, the few little moments where she seemed "content" and wished for more of those. “What about you enjoying it?” She asked, turning her head to look at him with a serpents’ glare. “Would you sit through something you felt was truly awful just to make me happy? Suffering in silence for the sake of elevating another isn’t anyway to live.” “That isn’t what I mean, and you know it,” he corrected her. He turned his head briefly to meet her eyes before returning them to the road. “So I want to see you happy, so what? Hate the notion all you like, but it doesn’t change my mind. Remember when you caught that fish?” “Oh god,” she laughed at the memory. Fumbling with the rod, screaming and panicking because she didn’t know what to do, and finally refusing to touch it because it was slimy. All in all it was absolute chaos. “Don’t remind me.” “For a moment after all that screaming and nearly tipping the boat,” he grinned as he recalled that day on the lake. “I say a hint of pure of joy in your eyes. For a sliver of a moment, you honestly had fun, probably because you’d battled nature and defeated it.” She puckered her lips into a dirty look, flirtatiously rebuking his comment behind her narrowed eyes. “But I have to say, that was the prettiest I’d ever seen your eyes. Add all the shadow and makeup you want, but nothing makes you lovelier than when you add a dash of joy. Just sayin’.” It was at that moment that Marissa hated him with every fiber of her being. Not because he’d called her out on her looks or contested her arguments about coping and happiness, but because he was right. His compliment and honesty was like a forty mega-ton backhand to her feels. He noticed her open her mouth to argue and he decided it best to just stay silent and drive on when she remained quiet and just turned to the window again to watch the scenery. “Yeah, well, what do you know? You think badgers are cute, too, so…” Cade just smiled. He knew she needed the last word, and this time was more than content to let her have it. Still though, he wasn't happy with her calling his home a shithole, but he wasn't going to convince a city girl like her that Shelly had its own charms that made the people stay. "And another thing,” he added carefully, making sure not to dive in too deep with his volatile partner. “It might be a shithole to you, but to many of us, it's been home all our lives. I know you hate it here, that it will never measure up to what you want. I appreciate that you did give me a chance to show you at least some of what I love about this place. Still, I think you're too hard on this place." She was silent for a while after, brooding in her window seat. “If I had a thousand dollars for every time,” she paused as she repositioned herself again. Cade braced for a meltdown, half expecting her to go on a tirade about nature and how it all needed to be burned to ash to make room for Starbucks and designers clothing outlets. “I sat on the roof outside my window and watched the sun set, I might be rich by now. It’s never not beautiful, like pure poetry without any words… just the inspired awe it brings out of me and the feelings it captures. I won’t deny that it’s gorgeous country here, it’s just… empty. I feel like Devin… like I’m moving a million miles per hour and Shelly is just chugging along at a break-neck thirty five miles per and the granny driving her doesn’t even feel like that’s a safe speed and wants to slow it down even more. You know? I need more. I want more.” To an extent he understood her, yet he knew everything was boring to her. She was someone who hated the outdoors, but never bothered looking for other options. Instead, she just chose to look down on everyone and everything, so she could feel justified in never having tried any of it. "Why didn't you perform with the school Theater group?" He asked quietly. “Because I don’t get on stage anymore,” her voice hesitated slightly, something that was rare for her and her abnormally well composed personality. “Someone I thought was a good person, wasn’t. I told you this story while fishing. The only thing I’d ever been good at, or thought I was good at, and he destroyed me at an audition, then later at school before the embers had cooled, he lit me up again and destroyed me in front of the entire school. Devin got beat up for weeks trying to protect me from their abuse, I was devastated, and I thought it would stop, you know? A couple of weeks, people would have their fun… but it persisted until we finally moved here. Almost a year.” “Performance is a very vulnerable act, Cade.” She didn’t look at him. Instead, she tapped down the visor and pretended to check her makeup while doing nothing but staring at herself, perhaps in some silent judgement. He couldn’t tell if she was talking to him, or herself after a few moments. “Being up there, doing your act leaves you open to everyone’s criticism, judgements and if you make a mistake, or botch it or even just sing a song someone doesn’t think is good for your voice, they ruin you just for the sake seeing you fail and burn out. There’s no mercy… frankly, people today are just horrible. All one can do is simply be more horrible than they are to keep them at bay.” He wasn't going to argue that he knew she had experience, but his own was that he just didn't care what other people thought. As an athlete, he gave it his all, and left it on the field. He did his best and sometimes, his best wasn’t enough for a win, what was important was that he showed up with his team and performed their best. There were times where he wondered what he could have done differently to get the win, but often the other team was just better. He knew it wasn't the same, but in a way, he could sympathize. Although Marissa talked a good talk, he also knew that underneath her hardened exterior the simple, wordless truth was that she was scared. Whomever it was that embarrassed her years ago to the point that she quit performing had left a deep enough scar that all she was doing today was preventing herself from ever having to feel that sort of embarrassment ever again. The Jeep was filled with an awkward silence as neither really knew where to go from there. Cade knew If he pressed, he’d just her angry and Marissa seemed to be a bit emotional when it came to talking about how she and her brother used to be bullied back home in Malibu. After a few moment of the sound of the tires rolling across the road she leaned in, towards the dash and switched on the console to pair her phone. Within seconds the sounds of the tires and the awkward silence were washed away by the sound of her Spotify playlist. The last forty-five minutes went by to the sounds of Ariana and Doja Cat, which really were not Cade’s jam, but a Spotify playlist wasn’t the hill he wanted to die on in the grand scheme of picking his battles. As they finally pulled into the main strip of Great Falls where the center of shopping was located, he chuckled. "So do you want to hit the mall first, or go eat, then walk off some of the calories?" "Uh, food first, duh." She quipped and then poked him in his side with one of her sharp nails. “And I don’t need to walk off the calories. Super metabolism, remember?” "As you wish." he said with a grin. As they enjoyed their pasta, their conversation turned to fewer private matters while in the company of the others around them enjoying their meals. They spoke about school, her now being a cheerleader, his plans for the Homecoming game and the state of their grades and which classes or teachers they were getting along with. Cade insisted on taking care of the bill. "This was my idea, so I'll get dinner." He told her to fend off protest before it began. He knew it gave off the signal of the trip being an attempt to wrangle her into a date, and she had a chuckle at his expense as he tried to explain that.
  9. "Me too," said said with a disarming smile. It was a half-truth, as the luxury and opulence was something she felt quite at home in, but she didn't really know Charlie all that well at all, and even less so after he ghosted her at breakfast, and didn't really feel right being at his funeral when she really just wanted to be somewhere else. "I think for separate reasons," she admitted to him, "But I get it." "Speaking of 'getting it'," she took him by the arm, lacing her through his and led him away from others who might over hear them. He thought it strange, and certainly unexpected that she'd lock arms with him and lead him away like they were a couple or something, but he silently conceded to allow this to go as far as it needed to in order to see what fresh brand of crazy she was bringing to the table. Once she felt they were far enough from prying ears she continued what she was saying. "I find it highly unlikely that you haven't tried figuring out how my brother and I went from torturing Autumn and the others last year, and over the summer we're all now besties, hanging out all the time and stopping kidnappers like a dysfunctional Scooby Gang. I also know you and Autumn talk, so, I'm curious, what's she told you about all of us? I'd hate to waste words on things you already know."
  10. Marissa caught a glimpse Charlie's mother and father trying to talk out of earshot from the rest of the guests and it didn’t look like they were very pleased with one another. Silent bickering was something her own parents excelled at and somewhere down in what passed for her soul, she knew it was about Charlie. They were already at each other’s throats about the divorce and him upgrading Charlie’s mom to a newer, blonder and bustier model, but with Charlie’s death looming over their heads now she assumed what was going on: blame. She didn’t disturb them as the hissed and spat in the shadows where their guests wouldn’t see, but it appeared as if Lucius blamed Charlie’s mother if for no better reason than it happened at her house while she wasn’t home. They didn’t know the truth, of course, that it wasn’t the fault of either of them, plus on that evening no one, not even the Fellowship could have stopped Not-Cody from claiming his victory over the Light. This seemed like their fate, however. To let Charlie’s parents, go one hating each other for the rest of their days as his mother carried the burden of not being there for her son while his father blamed his mother for the same. As far as people went, their lives were ruined. Now no amount of tears, prayers or upgraded mistresses would ever bring their son, Charlie, back. Leaving them to their disagreements, ruined lives and son, recently turned candle, the Queen of Mean slipped a champagne flute from one of the trays and stepped off to mingle. She wasn’t allowed to drink, of course, but Lucius had the event catered and Marissa did pass for a teenager on worse days. Having distracting beauty and a natural talent for always fitting in and looking like she belonged were certainly a blessing as the caterers didn’t bother questioning whether she was old enough. Not that it did anything for her with the advent of her powers activating, but still, the buzz was nice while it lasted, and she liked the taste. She’d had few side conversations with people she knew and tucked a select few of the phone numbers the wait staff had slipped her into her clutch and by the time she was on her second glass of champagne someone caught her eye. Jacob Crocker was certainly a yummy looking specimen of teenage manhood, but she’d decided that he was off the menu. Not because Tawny was dating him, or that he was Autumn’s close friend, but because she was too good for him and he possessed a small measure of altruism that made her wretch when she thought about it. Still, he was pretty, and a was a family friend of Autumn’s. That complicated matters between Marissa and Jacob because Autumn was her best friend and Jacob despised Marissa with every fiber of his being. With a sigh, she sipped her bubbly and approached him. The two guy he was talking with wisely left at her approach as the small parts of their brains sensed evil. Noticing her approach, he braced for the impending storm with a relaxing breath to temper his will. “Jacob, hello.” “What do you want?” The two of them were not friends, had little to nothing in common and she and her brother, Devin had tortured Autumn at school for the better part of the last three years. When it came to dealing with either of the Diabolic Duo that were the Jauntsen twins, his words as short as his patience with them. “To talk,” the tone of her reply was borderline flirtatious. He raised his brows as if to ask ‘about what’ with his expression. “You don’t like me, I know. Fact remains though that I’m not going anywhere. Autumn is my friend; you are Autumn’s friends as well. I’m trying to get to know you a little better and show you that I’m not as much of a monster as you believe me to be. The last thing any of us need is you and I at each other’s throats and complicating Autumn’s life. God knows we have stress in our lives without petty rivalries adding to the mix. I’m not trying to be a pest, but this is my third attempt to try and steal you all to myself for a bit. If you don’t want me wasting your time then simply say so, and I will never speak to you again,” she raised her hand up, palm facing him. “I swear.”
  11. The home of Lucius Cole was a bittersweet environment for the Jauntsen family. Back in Malibu their mansion rivaled Lucius’ opulence dollar for dollar, save for Misti having a bit more flair for class than Susanna. The girl’s (Misti saw her as just Lucius’ mid-life crisis waiting to melt down) immaturity and excitement towards spending Lucius's money never endeared her much the older Jauntsen parents, Marissa found she had a few things in common with her and Devin just fantasized about doing naughty things with her. As far as people went though, Susanna herself wasn’t all the impressive or very well liked, tolerated would have been the more apt term, considering she was simply an accessory to Lucius. Still, the place took them back to their old lifestyle, the one that the witness protection program wouldn’t let them return to. They were permitted to be rich, successful even, but they had to be humbler in their displays, as to not draw too much attention to themselves. Car was still getting flak from their handlers of their case after bought the twins their vehicles for their sixteenth birthdays. Oh how they all wished things could go back to how they were before so they go back to being Kardashian Stupid with their money. They were back in their element, and it showed. Mist and Carl had begun socializing, talking everything from business investments to local law enforcement issues within the county. Misti, despite being a behavioral therapist, knew more about the school district than a majority of those who ran it and was quickly embroiled with several local parents about all the possible opportunities for children in the upcoming years and how they could better protect the students from tragedies like this happening in the future. It was hard to tell if she was campaigning or just socializing, to be honest. Devin had separated himself away from everyone. It seemed obvious he wasn’t in the mood to speak to anyone, but it didn’t seem to be the funeral that had brought it on, something was wrong with him and his usual comic relief, flippantly humorous attitude seemed to have been transformed into an almost Bond-villain-like poise and hardened stare. Even Marissa was leaving him alone. Sure, they were fighting, they always did, but she knew there something eating away at him but hadn’t yet decided to brave him and ask what it was. Marissa slithered throughout the assembled high schoolers who’d attended. She made her rounds, seeing to it that she was seen and properly praised for not only how stunning she looked but on her impeccable taste in fashion. After a few short conversations with those that mattered (in the realm of high school politics, anyway) eventually finding who she was looking for: Garret. He was hanging out with Ronnie and Danny, his two only friends. Ronnie was a freshman who exemplified the stereotype of ninety-pound weakling and had been in love Marissa since she arrived three years ago to Shelly yet seemed incapable of actually talking to her. Danny was simply a detestable human being with no manners and fewer traits that identified him as an actual human being, everyone at School simply called him ‘Chub’, and if he cared, he didn’t seem to show it. He knew every piece of nerd trivia there was to know (whether he was right or not was irrelevant) and over all possessed no qualities that were likeable. He was Ronnie’s only friend though, besides Garret, and where Ronnie went, he dragged ‘The Chub’ with him. Garret didn’t really care for Danny, but he made up the third in their gaming group. “Hey,” she said to Garret softly as she approached. She reached out and gently tugged at his elbow to get his attention. “Do you have a few minutes?” Ronnie looked on like Garret had been selected by the gods for some grand quest, to have Marissa speak to him would allow him to die a happy and fulfilled man. Ronnie didn’t really shoot for the stars. “Pshh,” The Chub snorted as Garret stepped away to speak with Marissa. “I don’t what the hype is. She’s not even all that pretty. All I can say, dude, is that you better get on the ball and ask her out yourself, Ron, or I’m taking her to Homecoming.” “Dude, Marissa would date you if you were the last man on Earth.” Ronnie laughed. “She amazing. A goddess. I wouldn’t even know how to talk to her.” He snapped himself from his idol worship for a moment and craned his head. “I wonder what she wants Garret for?” “I’m tellin’ ya, she not all that.” Chub wheezed. “Look don’t tell anyone this, but I totally got to second base with her.” “When?” Ronnie looked at his friend in absolute disbelief. “At a party.” He shrugged, with no follow-up. “We don’t go to parties, Danny,” Ronnie di his best to keep his voice down. He knew Chub was lying, he always lied, but he never directly called him out on it. “It was at a cousins house, okay? You weren’t there. She was and we totally got busy.” He stuck to his guns, but Ronnie still seemed unconvinced. “Whatever, dude.” His friend just shook his head. Garret nodded and stepped away with Marissa, leaving his friends to wonder what was going on. “What’s up?” He asked. He honestly didn’t expect her to approach him outside of school. They weren’t friends (were they?) and she was miles higher in the social strata than he and… well… he hung out with a guy named ‘The Chub’, well… that pretty much said it all. “Sean is here,” she explained, tipping her glass to sip disappointingly non-alcoholic cider from a champagne flute. “I thought maybe, instead of just putting in a good word, you’d like to meet him. I’ll handle the introductions and you nerds can do what you nerds do. Because I have no idea what to tell him, to be frank.” “Yeah,” Garret’s expression lit up with anticipation. Sean’s intellect and status within Shelly rather small gaming community was neigh legendary, he’d even ran games for the college gamers down in Great Falls and got awesome reviews. While it didn’t impress Marissa at all, Garret saw Sean as the sort of DM who could help him improve his own games ten-fold and maybe even invite him to join his own campaign one day. “Th-that’s awesome, yeah… thanks!” “Least I could do,” her voice sounded of dismissal as she walked off with the expectation for him to follow. “It’s… been a week, as the saying goes. You haven’t been completely repugnant, so I thought it best to repay decency with decency.” “Don’t you mean kindness?” He followed along, slowing only to meet Marissa’s glare that told him to consider the likely hood of her and the world kindness being used together outside the current conversation. He nodded sheepishly. “Decency, right… got it.” He wasn’t sure he’d ever be used to the way every eye in the room seemed to be on him whenever he was walking with or around Marissa. It seemed like everyone knew who she was, but just had to look in her direction, like they were drawn to her, even some of the adults he noticed, gave her lustful stares, or looked on at her a bit longer than seemed proper. What was it about her that drove people mad? Awkward as it was, he pressed on through the house with her until they spotted Sean, near his parents and sister, Laurie, seemingly bored while their parents discussed something they were in no way interested in. “Sean,” Marissa approached and caught his attention with his name. She glanced for a moment to Laurie. “Cassie is several paces ahead of you girl, if you’re going to get my brother you need that crush of yours into gear and step up your game.” There wasn’t a hue of red that accurately described Laurie’s cheeks the moment Marissa went for the throat but the way she visibly shirked away and took a more defensive posture, told them Marissa wasn’t wrong. She rarely was about these sorts of things, and that just made it more infuriating. “I don’t’ have a crush on your brother.” Marissa’s glare was akin to an icepick slowly turning back and forth as it entered the skin. She knew the truth, and as tough as Laurie was, Marissa was tougher today as she practically begged Laurie to keep denying something that was totally obvious. “Liar.” “What do you want, harpy?” Laurie finally huffed, folding her arms under her chest and glaring back, thoroughly annoyed. “And why is Garret with you?” “Hi Laurie,” Garret awkwardly waved like a kid caught in a fight between his parents and not quite knowing what to do or say. “Hi Garret,” Laurie answered, her monotone voice devoid of any tone as her eye never left the target of her current irritation, Marissa. “Well,” she looked away from Laurie, she was five minutes ago anyways, and to Sean. “This is Garret,” she gestured to her guest. “I gathered that, but thanks.” Sean nodded to Garret and tried to hide his sarcastic smile from Marissa by sipping his drink. “Like you, he’s dedicated his life to saving himself for… well, death, probably by playing your nerd games. So, in the spirit of the preservations of your virginity, I thought you might be able to help him out with…” she realized she had no idea what Garret could possible want from Sean. “Well, whatever you nerds sit around snorting and grunting about in your own unwashed emanations. Garret, Sean Cassidy. Enjoy.” She presented Sean like Garret had just won him on the Price is Right. “Thanks, Marissa.” Garret smiled. “I uh, I can probably take it from here, but hey, my virginity thanks you too. This is a big step for me.” Marissa’s eyes narrowed as she did not find his sarcasm one-eighty the least bit amusing. “Just the other night I was watching Space Jam, and Lola Bunny… in that skirt? I felt temptation but then I focused on the Holy Trinity, DMG, Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual and I felt safe again.” He sarcastically laughed awkwardly. “Away temptress! And I was safe once more…” In a huff Marissa just turned and walked away, leaving them to whatever. Once she out of ear shot Garret regained his poise and said matter-of-factly, “Seriously though, Lola Bunny is so hot. R34 for days.” "Ew," Laurie offered while scrunching up her face. “Preach on, Brother Garret,” Sean joked, raising his glass in a mock toast. “Nice work, not a lot of people can handle Marissa all that well.” “Eh,” he shrugged. “She’s confusing Ay Ef, but what’s she going to do? Make me less popular?” Sean laughed at the logic, he was right, Garret was so far down on the chain that short of getting him busted for murder, Marissa couldn’t make him any less popular, it was a humbling lesson in the old saying about people with nothing to lose. “So, what did you want to talk about?” “Oh, well, mostly some 5e stuff, I got a few of the newer supplements and I wanted to incorporate them into my campaign, but I’m not sure how. I was hoping you-“ “Aaaand that’s my cue,” Laurie smiled and walked off, saying her farewells with a polite raise of her glass.
  12. "Jason's not my problem, he's yours. He's a high functioning psychopath who's spent his childhood assimilating and emulating the behaviours of the 'normal' kids and adults around him. Now that I've called him out, we both know he'll just adapt, act proper, make himself out to be an angel if nothing more than to make me look like a fool. I know how that game is played, Autumn. I've no desire to deal with him, and you're right: that shit is on me. A lot is on me." She set her phone down gently, face down on the table. "And I will deal with it, alone. Because I don't have friends I can rely on to have my back like the rest of you do." After the events with Not-Cody the brunette diva didn't find herself disliking any of the Fellowship, not that she would openly admit that, but she could certainly read the room. She knew where she wasn't wanted, knew she wasn't well liked, and while the blame game and finger pointing could go on for a fortnight, it boiled down to the simple reality that she had abused them for years and now they were close to her and in a position to exact revenge in short order on her. Autumn and Jason were the perfect example: he'd told Marissa he loved her, kissed her, and when she rebuked him to string him along in a flirtatious game, he was with Autumn not much later. She didn't blame Autumn for that, she didn't know Marissa had a crush or what had happened or what was said. Jason did however, and he boasted a library full of knowledge and a keen ability for logic and 'doing the math', yet she was supposed to assume in all his reading and exploration into the understanding of human behavior, it never once occurred to him that going after Marissa's best friend wasn't a polite idea? Simple fact was, Jason wasn't polite. He reveled in torturing and beating down others he considered his inferiors, a trait he and Marissa seemed to share. While Marissa would claim it was an act, and for the most part it was, she couldn't deny the emotional high she got from being superior, at least until she discovered she actually was superior. From Chet and the others to his verbal destruction of Coraline, in the past weeks Jason displayed that he reveled in the opportunity to physically and emotionally abuse others while simultaneously donning the mantle as the hero or 'vigilante' who was simply bringing good to the world by taking the law into his own hands or dolling out his own brand of abuse disguised as justice. Why should Marissa assume she was, in any way, exempt from his pattern of behavior? Thankfully, both she and Jason were too proud to speak to one another, so while it may never be resolved, some problems just took care of themselves. She sighed and flicked her hand about like she was waving off the thoughts in her head. "Not your problem though, so I'll see you Saturday but let's not get our hopes up on me staying, I mean seriously, if history is any sort of teacher."
  13. Her phone was scooped up the moment Autumn started speaking. If she could have looked any less interested she certainly would have, but still, she let her 'bestie', because apparently they were quoting now like it wasn't a thing, finish. She wasn't particularly angry with Autumn on a personal level. Wounded would have been the best way to describe it, now that she was thoroughly convinced that her 'friends' saw her as nothing more than a lying, backstabbing and conniving horror show of a person. Friendship required a measure of trust and now she knew, no matter what, that no matter much she trusted them in the future, that their true thoughts and opinions were already aired and they could never take them back. "I'm the one who said that I was available for a discussion, in fact, I'm the one who proposed it. I've also invited you over for heels training and show you the palette I've selected for you for Homecoming. Point of fact, I'm the one who invited all of you over so I could be honest with all of you until your boyfriend decided, and also declared, that we, the Fellowship, and myself, had nothing left to discuss. So, near as I can tell, the only weak link in dialogue seems to be on your side of the table." She looked from her phone to focus on her 'bestie', her dark eyes narrowing with obvious attitude. "So, yeah. I think it's safe to say we're 'doing this'. Like I said before, all you have to do is tell me when, and where and I'll be there."
  14. Marissa was overjoyed that it wasn’t raining. The cloudless sky and slight, worm breeze made her even more photogenic in the stunning dress she’d purchased just for this one event and her heels weren’t digging into damp, muddy ground and threatening to break her ankle with every step. It was no surprise that the Jauntsens turned up like it was a fashion of show, but unlike the residents of Shelly, they possessed style and class, money and refinement. Devin and her father, Carl, were in black suits. Three-piece Panama-style to best match the summer season. Clean shaven, with product in their hair and a well-cut suit, the two men looked great as single women and students, and some not-so-single women and students, would attest to in their DMs later all over Shelly’s social media circuit. Those same DMs would contain mostly spite and vitriol hidden carefully in back-handed compliments towards the Jauntsen women. Misti had decided on a knee-length leather pencil skirt with a blouse and suit jacket that complimented the ensemble perfectly. Marissa specially ordered an off-the-shoulder sweater dress, similar to the one she wore the evening before, that hugged her body so tightly in may as well had been brushed on using paints mixed from the jealousy and envy of the assembled onlookers. Her makeup was impeccably flawless, with her trademark dark maroon lips. She’d opted for her hair up in a tight bun, to better show off the curves of her bare shoulders. Marissa wasn’t really feeling the funeral. That’s not to say she didn’t mourn for Charlie, she did. His death was a tragedy and served as a stark reminder to the Fellowship that the stakes they were playing for were very real and the price they paid could be the ultimate one. Still, she didn’t know Charlie, not like Devin did. Devin and Charlie has actually talked, shared a joke or two; had at least bonded on some level. The one, and only, time Marissa had tried to bond with him (she did find him kind of attractive) he’d just simply stopped talking to her all together, resulting in her leaving their breakfast date in a confused and very frustrated state of mind about him. He passed on shortly after and they’d never had a chance to resolve their issues, and now they never would. Unlike Devin, she didn’t see that a negative. It wasn’t her fault he ghosted her in the middle of their breakfast date. His loss, not hers. Although still fighting with him, she hugged her brother as he returned from his kind words. When Charlie’s mother looked at her, as if to ask if she had anything to add, Marissa replied with a rather heartless, “I’m good.” With a dismissive raise of her hand and a stiff frown. She’d already cried her tears over Charlie’s loss and had ample time to recall how he’d behaved and frankly, she was already over it. It was tragic and sad, yes… but she didn’t know him at all. The whole service felt like one big stranger telling her their grandparent had passed; all she could do was say she was sorry for their loss and get on with her life. She knew her brother was sincere, she, on the other hand, could have mustered a kind word to save her life right now. What would she say? “He was weird, awkward and mercilessly sliced people apart under the responsible guidance of Jason Bannon without any compassion. He’ll be missed.” She didn’t want to lie though. He wouldn’t be missed. Here she was, at his funeral, already having moved on and thoroughly bored. Maybe if he hadn’t ghosted her, he wouldn’t be one right now. That was unfair. She breathed in and slowly and softly sighed, trying to clear those sorts of thoughts from her head. Charlie was a decent guy, she guessed, and she knew that her anger towards the Fellowship and her brother were just making her spiteful for the sake of spite, and why did Tawny show up without any makeup on? She thought she taught the girl better than that. After a few more words from other people began to clear out for the gathering of free food and pointless conversation hosted at Mr. Cole’s home. No one wanted to be in Mrs. Cole’s kitchen once they discovered how Charlie’s body was found. She was considering moving since the event, finding it hard to even be in that room of her house now. Way to go, Charlie. It had to be in the kitchen, right? Not the guest bathroom, or the attic? Some room no one ever goes into. Even now, she couldn’t help but chastise him. The twins were walking away from the service when Tawny approached them. Her complexion still carrying the palette of weariness and near-death tirelessly. “Devin?” She asked, noticing the way he didn’t even bother looking at her. “I-I was hoping we could talk.” “Well, hold on to that,” Devin said softly, not wanting to let their drama spill into the services. “Because it’s all you have left.” He turned to walk off then paused, turning back to her with his finger bobbing as a thought hit him. “And Jacob. Go talk to him. Let him tell you how none of this is your fault and I’m just immature and a waste of your time. Let him be your hero, because after fighting and bleeding and almost dying to save you, it’s obviously not me. Just pray he’s there the next time Darkness comes calling.” “You know he can’t hurt them,” tears began to well up in her eyes as the guy who had been her best friend for years, her first love, her love still, now spoke to her like she wasn’t even a person anymore. “Sounds like a you problem.” He walked off without another word and before he had to listen to any of her excuses or apologies or accusations. Marissa was an expert on cruel but watching this made her visibly wince. She’d never seen Devin so callous and cruel except to those who undoubtably deserved it, like Chet’s cousin when he black mailed her earlier that year. She would never admit that she had romanticized about Devin and Tawny finally getting their chance to be together. Whether it worked out or not, no one could deny that as far as couples went, they were an adorable pairing. That dream was going up in flames quickly, like Autumn in a weed field quickly. “He hates me.” The blonde’s tearing eyes met Marissa’s and all she could do was exhale softly and put on a faux smile. “Give him time,” she said, not really believing herself. As a fellow Jauntsen twin, she knew how proficient they were at holding, and enforcing, grudges. “We’ve all been through a lot. I’m not trying to minimize anything you’ve been through, but we’ve gone and are going through quite a bit too. We’re all a mess.” Wiping the tears from her eyes with a tissue she’d been given at the service, it barely helped. “Are we?” “Yeah, we’re fine.” Marissa deciphered the code of the unasked question of Tawny wondering if Devin hated her, did that mean she hated her too? “As long as I’m not some gateway for you to see or repair things with my brother. This one is between you two, I’ not getting in the middle of it.” They both knew that was a lie, but still traumatized blonde Marissa had called a neighbor and friend for years threw her arms around her. Marissa managed a genuine smile, her first in days as holding Tawny reminded her that she was still alive because of what she and her brother and the others accomplished together. The world was certainly falling apart if her line of thought was to suddenly act as a voice of reason. Swiftly she caught up to her brother. Neither stopped, they just walked as she talked. “That was shitty, and you know damn well it was.” “What do you care?” He shot back, never even taking his eyes off the path that led to their car. “Just one more body on the pile as you climb to the top, right?” “Fuck,” she huffed, pausing for effect. “Off.”
  15. There were no words that accurately described the level of anger that Marissa was feeling towards her brother. She was still mad at Jason, because of what happened between them the night before, and while her bother stood up for her, later that evening he’d demanded she take some measure of accountability for her actions and attempt some sort of amends. Devin wasn’t on the best of terms with everyone else, and didn’t feel Marissa was faultless in anything, but he did know nothing would get solved if everyone’s pride kept getting in the way. She didn’t disagree with that concept, but she, like Jason, was not about to show any sign of weakness first. That was currently the point of contention between the two siblings and Marissa was adamant about not budging. For the most part she’d been ignoring the others and sitting quietly at her table with one leg crossed over the other and her posture perfect while she quietly read a book. Having no homework of her own, at least for today, Marissa had decided at lunch that today’s study hall was going to be a quiet one, save for her brother’s usual antics. She was well into another of her fantasy books and as such had sat as far away from everyone else as she could. Just as much for privacy as it was to not have to deal with any of the others currently in attendance. She was nearly halfway through the Shadowhunter series by Cassandra Clare and was certain that if she didn’t have the comfort of her books in the last several weeks, she may have killed someone. Her eyes angled up from her book as the chair across from her was pulled out and Garret, the nerd she spoke with yesterday, sat down, goofy smile and all. “Hi.” He said, quietly, smiling. Her eyes trailed back down to the pages of her book, and she ignored him with the silence of the tomb. He wasn’t good at taking hints. “Are you okay?” He asked. Well beyond frustrated she closed her book and stared at him, lips pursed and her eyes piercing into him like a psycho killer’s dagger over and over. “Do I look okay?” She said snidely. “I’m trying to read, alone, and a nerd is stinking up my table.” “I’m not bothered by you calling me a nerd, you know.” Garret said as he set a few of his D&D book on the table. “What are you doing?” Marissa got defensive at the sight of him making himself comfortable at her table. “This is my table, fuck off.” “Come on,” he replied calmly. “I won’t bother you. I just need a quiet spot, like you, to work on this weekend’s game notes. You won’t even know I’m here.” “Yes, I will,” she fumed. “Take your goodwill tee shirt and virgin bibles and,” she leaned in practically hissing at him. “Fuck. Off.” Garret, who was a coward in his own right when it came to the more popular classmates, especially the Jauntsen Twins, leaned in as well. He might be afraid of her, but it was all over school that the Jauntsens were losing popularity day by day to Chet and new Bod-Squad that was a football/cheerleading team. Maybe that bolstered him a bit. Maybe she was the first popular and most beautiful girl to ever talk to him for longer than ten seconds. Maybe he just had a death wish. Whatever it was, he managed enough courage for a rebuttal. “Marissa, I heard Mrs. Forster dig into you and your brother when you came in so let’s be real, if you make a scene, we both know that she going to ruin you in front of everyone and that won’t bode well for your image. I’m not going to bother you, I just want to sit, work on my gaming stuff, you won’t even know I’m here.” Palpable tension hung in the air as Marissa processed that until finally, she conceded. For a nerd, this Garret guy had some stones, that was for sure. “That’s pretty cutthroat.” He just shrugged and opened his notebook. “Mildly impressive.” He tried to hide his smile as he went to work on his notes, and she went back to her book. His pencil meticulously scribbled notes as he flipped pages and compared the various statistics to the stats of his players in his game. Marissa continued to read, allowing her curiosity to surface only a few times to look over and see what it was he was jotting down so earnestly. Still, she didn’t bother him, and he didn’t bother h- “So, you’re okay then,” he whispered, and she knew it was too good to last. “I was worried. Kinda freaked me out.” She sighed, raising her eyes from her pages once more. “What are you talking about. Better yet why are you talking?” “Yesterday, when you fainted.” He moved his pencil’s eraser in a bit of a circle as if to rewind time. “You scared me, and I was just hoping you were okay. You seem better, so, that’s good.” She inhaled slowly, remembering her fainting spell the day before. The way her powers had enhanced her physically had driven her metabolism into hyperdrive and she’d collapsed as her body suffered from hypoglycemia. “I uh,” she managed a slight smile. It’s not that she didn’t know what to say, or how to say it, it was that her mind paused briefly as she contemplated that here she was, two days in a row, talking with this Garret guy whom she shouldn’t be giving the time of day to. “Yeah, I’m doing better, just low blood sugar was all. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately.” “Sorry to hear that,” he offered her a smile of his own a warm measure of genuine compassion that she wasn’t accustomed to. Not that people hadn’t tried, but they were whispering and often enough she was rarely quite enough to be able to observe as she conversed. “College prep and stuff? That’s the hot topic in my house at the moment. I want to go into IT, but my mom isn’t ready to let me leave home yet.” Even though no one could hear them over their whispers, he leaned in anyway to convey a secret. “She’s sort of clingy.” “Imagine that,” Her sarcastic faux smile conveyed all the usual compassion that was typical in a conversation that didn’t involve her as the topical focus. “IT must be huge out here in cow country.” “Bigger than one might think. From the mayor’s office to the check out at the grocery store, Shelly might be a small town, but everything runs on computers and software. The police dispatch, 9-1-1, medical dispatch, all of it. I don’t want to stay here in Shelly though, but if this is where the work is, I’d take it and hang around. My mom’s afraid I’ll head off to college, get a degree and she’ll never see me again.” “Lucky you,” she sneered. “I can’t wait to get rid of mine. She’s so controlling and there’s just no pleasing her, no matter what I do. Nothing I do makes her happy.” “So?” Garret shrugged. His response earned him a glare from Marissa who could easily had taken his reply as him just dismissing her concerns and worries, but he wasn’t. His lack of concern wasn’t directed at Marissa, but at her seeking the approval of her mother. “Look, I love my mother, I do, and yes, I’m a bit of a momma’s boy, I can admit that. At the end of the day though, as smothering as she is, she isn’t the one who must live my life. If you commit a crime, you serve the time, not your mom. If you failed to pay your rent, they wouldn’t evict your mom, they’d evict you. So, whether your mom is happy or not, you still must go your own way and live your life. At least, that’s my take on it.” It wasn’t that she had never considered what he was saying, in fact, she didn’t really care what her mom thought of her or how she lived her life. She just didn’t expect to hear it from him. “That’s,” her expression was one of suspicion and curiosity as she managed a curl of her lip that seemed more open and inviting to conversation than it had been a few moments ago. “Surprisingly insightful.” She closed her book and folded her hands in front of her, interlacing her fingers. “So, Information Technologies huh? Have you looked into the Wise Scholarship, it’s not a lot but to a recent graduate it can be a life saver.” “No,” he shook his head and slid his notebook close to him, scrawling ‘wise scholarship’ in the margin of the page. “Is it hard to get?” “No,” she laughed softly. “Insanely easy to be honest, providing we qualify… I took some notes at lunch…” Just like that her and Garret were deep in the nuances of college tuitions and scholarship prospects. The lovely Queen of Shelly High had always taken her future seriously and never really found others around her that shared her passion for success. Her bother thought college was just for parties and sex, Jason would never really need to apply himself to get a PhD by… tomorrow, same with Sean, who could just edit his grades anyways. Cassie seemed like a great prospect for college, Lilly could easily get through on her athletic scholarships, not that she would, but Marissa never really spoke with them a whole lot anyways and knew more about Lona in the few days her bother was dating her than she knew about Cassie whom she saved the world with the night before. She was pretty sure Autumn was hopeless, destined to stay perpetually baked and playing with animals her whole life. “Hey,” she said after a few minutes of talking over her notes and giving him time to write down a few things he’d showed her. “Um, look, I didn’t mean to be a bitch to you earlier.” “Yeah, you did,” he smiled. “You wanted to be alone, I get it. I’ve been there, so no worries. It’s not like I’m swimming in friends, popular ones or otherwise, so I know what it’s like when school or home gets to people.” “So, knowing I wanted to be alone, you sat down anyway.” Her posture shifted to the defensive as she seemed to take some offense. “Yeah,” he shrugged uncaringly. “High school is rough. Some might not think so, hell, for some it might be the easiest thing they ever do, but for others we have to cope and deal, and go through a lot of emotional and mental crap. For us it’s not easy. So, sometimes we need to stick together.” She laughed, quietly and in a bit of a whisper. With a roll of her eyes, she folded her arms under her chest and looked at him with an expression that told him he had some nerve. “Oh, there is no we Garret. Don’t even compare me to you, we are nothing alike.” “Didn’t say we were alike,” he didn’t look up from his notebook as finished some notes. “You’re you, I’m me. What I do know, Marissa is that we’ve both seen people in this school go over the edge. They’ve been ignored, harassed, bullied, picked on or just plain forgotten and treated like they were invisible. They’ve sat alone at a table, like this one, for days, and then before we realize it they go and do something stupid, like attempt suicide or shoot up the school.” “So you think I’m suicidal? What the fu-“ “Again,” he cut her off, raising up his hand to quiet her as he finished. “I didn’t say that. You fell over yesterday. You’ve been arguing and fighting with people all week. You had a traumatic experience with kidnappers the other day and today you’re angry with your brother and not sitting with your friends-“ “They’re not my friends.” She cut him off. “Suit yourself, but people in this small town talk. It's all over school that you're not having an easy time of it right now.” He shrugged not debating it. “I sat down because you’re obviously going through something. Full disclosure, you scare they hell out of me. You’re mean, irritable, you never have a nice thing to say about anyone, but regardless of all of that were our roles reversed and I was sitting in the back all alone trying to seethe in silence I know deep down all I would want is for someone to at least sit with me, and make conversation, even it was stupid conversation.” “Why?” She shook her head, completely confused. “So I knew I wasn’t alone.” His reply seemed sincere enough. “Those people who feel invisible, unwanted, unloved… survivors of those feelings always say ‘I just felt so alone’ or ‘I didn’t have anyone I could talk to’. So, no, Marissa, I don’t think you would shoot up the school or hurt yourself, but I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone, I guess.” “Why do you even care?” She snorted. “My brother and I pushed half these people to that edge, and no one’s died yet.” “Knowing that possibly all I had to do was care and simply chose not to is just not a demon I want to carry with me is all.” He shrugged again; his words were so confident that they completely betrayed his rather unimpressive, nerd-like exterior. “So, hate me, be pissed, belittle me, do what it is you do, but if you want to talk, I’m here. We’ve all got crap to deal with and I can’t guarantee I can relate, but I can at least listen.” For what seemed like forever Marissa just looked at him, her cold, regal shadow fading in the light of what he’d said. He seemed particularly wise about this topic, which told her that there was a reason he’d adopted this crusade as his own, or perhaps just her. Still, he was awfully brave for a guy who just said she scared him, and he seemed halfway decent. Once again, she leaned in and lowering her head to keep their conversation between them. “My friends all hate me. My mom hates me. My brother hates me. This school hates me. There.” “I don’t hate you.” He chuckled. “Oh, goody. One guy in all of Shelly doesn’t hate. Be still mine heart.” She mocked him in monotone. “A farm, became a Thorpe, became a village, became a city.” His ticked of his reply on his fingers. “I don’t hate you, seriously. I doubt they do either. You just come with an exceedingly long acclimation time is all.” That made her smirk a bit. “Really, how long do you think?” “Oh,” he shook his head, smiling at her. “A few… decades or so? By the time you’re demanding the United States surrender from your volcano lair, you’ll look back on this and laugh. Bet.” And she did laugh, not from her volcano lair, but there at the table and loud enough for others to see that Marissa was seeming to enjoy a conversation from one of the least likely of people in the entire norther hemisphere of Earth: some gamer-nerd kid named ‘Garret’. Shelly Montana was such a weird place to live.
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