What Lies Ahead
First thing Monday morning Zoe and I caught up with Tami at school.
“What did your parents say?” I asked with no preamble.
“The preacher is pressuring them pretty hard to give in. They held him off, but I’m not sure how long that’ll last. They are really upset about having to go against him, Mom especially. She has totally bought into his bullshit. I think he’s losing some face over this, since it had already been announced that Judy would be the next of his chosen girls.”
“Do you think they will give in?”
“I don’t know. He has basically told them to get rid of me, that I was ‘too corrupted by the devil’s influence’. He wants them to sell their house and go live at his ranch compound full time.”
“Are they going to do it?”
“I don’t know. Mom is ready to toss me out. She’s totally pissed and blames all this on me. Dad is pushing back, but it’s always been her way before. I’m actually kinda proud of him for finally showing some backbone, but I don’t think it’ll last.”
“I’m going to have to go see this preacher!” I said, angrily.
“Cas, don’t. That will just make it worse.”
“How can it get worse? You just said you think they are going to give in to him. If they throw you out, you can always come live with us, no problem. But Judy? That poor kid doesn’t need to spend the rest of her adolescent years getting raped by some monster.”
“I don’t know what to do,” she said, a tear sliding down her face.
“Give Cas a shot at trying something,” Zoe said. “I’m sure he will talk to Jonathan and the people he had watching Emily and they will figure out something.”
“Yeah,” Tami said, wiping away the tears now coming from both eyes. “Ok.”
“Let’s stop off in the restroom and get you cleaned up,” Zoe said, taking Tami’s arm.
“Hey,” I said as they walked away. “Where’s Vicki?”
Vicki usually rode in with Tami and they had first period together, so it was weird not seeing her.
“I got a text from her saying she didn’t feel good,” Tami said.
“What? But she can’t get sick. I mean she shouldn’t be able to. Not with the changes that have happened to her body.”
“I know,” Tami replied. “I think she’s just stressed about home stuff. I mean, she did sneak out this weekend.”
Tami and Zoe disappeared into the restroom and I headed off to class.
By lunch, Tami was looking much better. Zoe was pretty good at lifting people’s spirits and it seemed she had been working on Tami most the morning.
Our lunch table this year had expanded quite a bit. Besides what made up the core of our group from last year, we had added a fair number of Vicki’s friends, since she was now a permanent establishment with us.
The school was, at this point, fairly used to our weird quartet; although we were still an object of curiosity, especially to the incoming freshmen. Many of the teachers were less thrilled and we got regular looks of displeasure from them. These were mostly teachers we didn’t interact with on a regular basis who didn’t really know us though.
“Feeling better,” I asked Tami as I sat down across from her and Emily and next to Zoe.
“I guess. There isn’t much I can do about it now. Hopefully you have more luck. But,” she said finally smiling, “we have some brighter news.”
“Yeah,” I said warily.
The smile was not her, ‘I’m happy everything’s ok’, smile. It was more of an, ‘I have a plan and I like making you do stuff’, smile. Zoe had the same smile on her face, so I knew they had been plotting. Emily, however, looked partly scared.
“We’ve been talking to Emily,” Zoe said, “and after weeks of working with her therapist, she thinks she is ready to move past what happened. So we’ve all decided it’s time for you two to go out on a real date, tonight”
“Really?” I asked, looking at Emily.
“Yeah,” she said, looking at me with a mixture of hope and worry.
“I assume the girls have already worked out all the details?”
“Yeah,” she said again.
“And you’re gonna say sentences longer than one word tonight?” I asked with a smile, to let her know I was just playing with her.
“Yeah,” she said with a laugh.
“What the hell, Grey,” Jacob said from a few seats down. “Aren’t you dating enough girls, yet?”
“Apparently not,” I said with a smirk.
Even though our friends were acclimated to our weird circumstance, they still sometimes got thrown by it.
“It’s not his fault,” Tami chimed in. “We’re the ones who keep bringing girls to him.”
“You are the luckiest man alive,” Josh said from the other end of the table.
“I don’t know,” Jacob said, “One chick is a pain in the a...”
He was interrupted when Rachel, his girlfriend, reached out and punched him.
“Not you baby,” He said, rubbing his chest.
“Better not mean me,” she said with a smile and a lot of attitude.
You had to like Rachel. She was quite possibly one of the most aggressive people I had ever met, and she didn’t back down from anyone.
At the end of lunch, I put a hand on Emily’s elbow to slow her down and waved the others to go on without us.
“We don’t have to do this tonight if you don’t want to,” I said to Emily.
Through most of lunch she had been fiddling and throwing me furtive glances, clearly uncomfortable.
“I want to, I’m just nervous.”
“Because of what happened?”
“No. I mean, yeah. I guess that’s part of it. But it’s also ... I’ve never really dated before. With how my dad was and everything, I always kept to myself.”
“Do you want to put it off for a few days?”
“No, I really want to go, tonight.”
“Ok, then tonight it is!”
I gave her arm a light squeeze, and turned to head towards my next class
Normally in the afternoon I leave school by myself, since I went to the office before going home and the rest of them had after-school activities, so I was surprised to find Zoe leaning against my car when I got to the parking lot.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in practice,” I asked after giving her a kiss.
“Yeah, but I told the coach I had something to do right after class, and would be late to cheerleading practice.”
“Why do I feel like you have some kind of scheme?”
“Shut up,” she said with a laugh, slapping me hard on the shoulder, “and listen. We have talked and we all agree you should tell her tonight.” “Tell her what?”
“About you, about us, all of it.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Zoe.”
“She already knows something isn’t right about us. I mean, you don’t do a great job hiding it, sometimes; and, we’ve been laying the groundwork. Just explain it to her and answer her questions, and it will be fine.”
“I don’t know,” I said, hesitating.
“Cas, you were the one who said you didn’t want to change anyone without them knowing the full extent of what that would mean.”
“Wait,” I started to say.
“I’m not saying anything’s happening tonight,” She said, holding up a hand. “Especially after you tell her, she is going to need some time to process it. I mean, you being an alien or whatever is big news.”
“I’m not an alien.”
“I said or whatever,” she said with a laugh. “But you made a big deal out of wanting people to have a choice, so we figured this needed to happen. Cause that girl has it bad for you.”
“Ok, well, I guess I appreciate that you guys heard me.”
“Yeah, we’re pretty wonderful. Ok, head to work and don’t be late getting home. We will have your date clothes set out for you.”
To tell the truth, I was actually really excited about my date with Emily. I know a part of it was biology. We hadn’t figured out exactly how it worked, but it was becoming clear that, even before someone was changed, there was some kind of biological pull that happened after I had kissed a girl.
Mom thought it might be even before that, and have to do with once I was attracted to a girl. She said it might have to do with pheromones or something similar, and I began changing the person before there was even any physical contact.
I wasn’t thrilled by that, but she said it was actually not that unheard of in nature and there had been, if not identical examples, parallels of biological attractants.
It was something we were looking into, and the girls had, under who knows what pretense, gotten fairly regular blood samples from Emily and several other people I was in regular contact with who hadn’t actually been changed yet.
Whatever it was though, I could feel the pull of Emily and each day she started, at least in my head, to move closer into the same grouping as the other girls.
So Zoe did have a point. I needed to have a talk with her now and give her a chance to get away from the freak show that is my life before it got too late.
I was pretty lost in thought when I walked into the office, and almost ran over Mary Ann, who had gotten up from her desk to intercept me as I walked in.
“Ted’s looking for you, Space Cadet,” she said with a smile as I just barely dodged her.
“Sorry about that. Had stuff on my mind.”
“That sounds about normal. He wanted you to stop in his office as soon as you came in.”
“Sure thing,” I said, trying to push out my thoughts about tonight’s date with Emily and get focused for whatever Ted needed.
When I walked into his office Ted practically leaped out of his chair.
“Excellent, you’re here. Let me call Marcus, Jonathan, and Ron in here.”
The previous week Jonathan had finally moved into our offices full time. He still had a piece of his practice, but he had handed off most of his cases to partners, and they were in the process of buying him out.
It was totally amiable, although his partners weren’t crazy about our business being taken away from them as he joined us. With the way we had grown over the past year, I’m sure they saw giant dollar signs in place of our name.
But we had always been a client through Jonathan, and we hadn’t signed any kind of agreement locking us into business with them.
I’m sure they could have fought it, but since Jonathan was essentially handing them the rest of his portfolio, and we promised to use them for any overflow legal work we had, they saw the value of keeping us happy and giving us Jonathan.
In exchange for giving up his practice, we had made Jonathan a partner in Destiny, equal to Marcus’s standing. It was still a gamble for Jonathan, but considering the amount of money we made the previous year, and the amount we could make if any of our future plans worked out, it was a gamble with a serious upside.
After a few minutes everyone had assembled and Ted launched into whatever had him so amped up.
“We received a call late last week from Aaron Baxter at Miltech.”
“Really, what could he possibly want,” I said, surprised.
MilTech was a DOD contractor we’d had a run in with the previous year that had ended up their buying our drone patents and essentially funding everything we have done since then.
I had met Aaron at his office once, and he seemed like a stand-up guy, going as far as having some guys in his office that had come up against us arrested when he found out they had broken into our offices for a little industrial espionage.
That being said, he’d had those people working in fairly high levels of his organization, so I wasn’t yet ready to be his best friend.
“They have heard about what we’ve been doing on the desalinization project and were especially interested in the patents we filed recently on the use of bacterial cleaning of the water, pre-filtration.”
Once you filed a patent, they were out in the public and some companies had entire teams scouring new patents to try and find something they could scoop up cheap before it ever got off the drawing board.
“They recently got a contract to do an overhaul on a bunch of Navy ships, as well as the construction contract on a new series of destroyers. From what he said, water filtration and available space for new systems has always been an issue on ships, and they are looking for ways to cut down on the water tanks the ships have to use room for now.”
“We haven’t managed to scale it down yet to be small enough to fit on a ship,” Ron threw out.
“From your reports, it seemed like you weren’t that far off,” Marcus said.
“Maybe. The latest run of tests has been pretty successful.”
“I told him we didn’t have it scaled down enough,” Ted continued, “But they are a little way off from starting the contract. Stuff like this always has to go through layers of approval so we have a little time. Plus, they also need to take the time to update all their plans accordingly.”
“Was he talking about buying it or...” Ron said, sounding both worried and excited at the same time.
By this point I had spent enough time around engineers to know what he was thinking, or at least feeling. The prospect for selling off patents was always exciting, because it usually comes with a payday. Of course, at most major companies, the engineer sees none of that; but we had shared the wealth from the sales of the drone patent, which made any large sale become a windfall for everyone.
At the same time, these guys spent a lot of time thinking over their designs. To some of them, their work was their children, and they had a hard time letting it go. There was always one more tweak, one more modification that could be making their invention just that much better.
That was a blessing and a curse, since while it made for incredibly focused and dedicated work on a project, sometimes it made it tough to get the project finished up.
“We didn’t get into specifics, but it sounded like they were talking about licensing it. That would be great, because right now we are living off the proceeds of our last sale, and a steady cash flow would do wonders for our balance sheets.”
“As long as we make sure that we aren’t on the hook for any kind of penalties if we can’t get it to scale down properly, I am up for this. All of our plans had been civil anyway, so this seems like a no brainer,” I said. “Jonathan, you and Ted take point on this and let’s see where it can go.”
“No problem,” Jonathan said.
“Ok, well, I have a few things I gotta get doing. I have somewhere to be in a couple of hours and there are a few things I need to take care of. But keep me in the loop on this.”
“Will do,” Ted said as the meeting broke up.
I headed back to my office, and spent a few hours going through the various work that always piles up on my desk while I am at school. Ted, Marcus, and Jonathan, now that he was with us full time, covered as much as they could, but some things needed me to sign off. Also, there was always a large stack of reports and memos.
That was my doing. I had insisted on being kept in the know on everything we worked on. Luckily my reading speed was fast enough by this point that I was able to stay on top of it.
Finishing up on my work I packed up and headed home, and my thoughts immediately returned to Emily. I was filled with a weird mixture of excitement over our date and worry about the conversation that was going to happen.
“Go upstairs and get dressed,” Zoe said to me as soon as I opened the door.
“Yes, boss,” I said as I walked past.
I gave a small jump in surprise as she whacked me, hard, on the ass as I passed her.
“And don’t you forget it,” she said.
As I had assumed, clothes were already laid out for me on my bed. They had selected nice dress pants, a dark blue button up shirt, and a sports coat I didn’t even know I owned. Of course, if I had to guess I probably hadn’t owned it before this week.
As usual, the girls had been plotting.
By the time I got downstairs, Emily was already there, surrounded by the other girls, although Vicki’s absence was notable.
She looked amazing in a simple dress and short heels, and her black hair, which normally hung mid-way down her back, was pulled up with braids leading into the longer section.
I don’t know much about hair, and less about how girls style it, but I approved of whatever this was called.
With her hair out of her face it really changed the way she looked. She had filled out some since coming to live with us. With her parents and then grandparents, Emily had always been on the scary side of skinny. I’m not sure either set was very concerned about feeding her.
Mom however had made it a mission, and it was really changing the way Emily looked. Her whole face, once boney and angular had started becoming softer and rounder. I hadn’t really noticed it before, since normally her hair was framing her face and hiding some of it.
“We made you two reservations at that Italian place down by the court house,” Tami said.
“Ohh,” Emily said, her eyes sparkling, “I’ve wondered about that place.”
Coming of Age /