Yes, I know. This is not the memo. This is not me figuring out some part of my power or a part of my life worth mentioning like my graduation. No, I shouldn’t be encouraging drinking games or even the sight of spandex.
It was just that… Well, suffice to say, drinking makes you do a lot of stupid things, and I’m not just talking about Larabee’s fashion show or the gummy bear eating contest, either.
There was something else that happened that was probably a bit more important—and stupid—that kind of has to be told, whether I like it or not…
“We should go home.”
“Clayton, you do realize you’re very, very drunk right now, don’t you?” April asked, and he nodded. He might be drunk, but he still knew that he was drunk. That didn’t matter. He wasn’t staying at Larabee’s, not even for one night. It would set a bad precedent again, and he didn’t want to do that. No, no, that wasn’t going to happen. “You need to stay put.”
“I didn’t drive. I walked. I walk lots of places.”
“Yeah, I don’t think walking home drunk is all that much better than driving. You’ll end up getting run over or something—Sure, you won’t kill anyone else with your car because you’re not driving, but that doesn’t mean that you should drive anywhere. Walk anywhere, I mean.”
“But,” Clayton whined, looking over at the green spandex warrior passed out on the other side of the room. “Larabee is out cold, so no more fashion show. No more naming game, and we ate all the gummy bears in the contest—”
“Ugh. Don’t remind me. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat gummy bears again,” April moaned, doubling over with an arm around her stomach.
“I say I won. If I can keep eating, I win,” he insisted. The contest had been officially declared a draw or tie because they ran out of gummy bears, but he wanted more, so he won. That was how he saw it. “I’m going to go get more. And go home.”
“That is a very bad idea,” April said, reaching for him to stop him. “You need to sober up first. And it’s not fair to leave Larabee with all the mess to clean up.”
“Oh, he has inventions to clean up for him,” Clay said dismissively. He shook his head as he pulled his arm out of April’s hold. He looked around. “I don’t see my coat.”
“Larabee said something about oozing it and then coffee soaking?”
“Not again,” Clayton moaned. She looked at him, confused. “Larabee has this stuff that changes fabric. It stretches like you wouldn’t believe. And shrinks. And smells, unless it’s soaked in coffee for weeks. Yeah, I know. It defies logic. Everything in my life defies logic. It’s probably why Larabee could fit in any of those outfits because he supposedly made them for me. Not the point. Point is—you can’t use it on coats. It never works, and he just ruined my favorite one. Again. Hey, what happened to the leather one you always wear?”
“I have to find someone who can fix the elbows. It has holes,” she admitted with a sigh. “I loved that coat. The hat… My mom had the coat first, and she gave it to me, but when she did, she made me a scarf and the hat, but now they’re all falling apart, and she’s not here to fix them anymore.”
Clayton went back to April’s side, helping her up. “Come on. You’re going to cry, and I don’t know what to do about that, but I won’t leave you alone, either. Besides, no one should wake up to Larabee. I do know that much.”
“You’re mean to him.”
“Oh, he’s my friend—my only friend—but he’s… Larabee.”
April leaned against Clayton as he opened the door. “Where are we going?”
“Gummy bears. Home.”
“I am not going to your house, Clayton.”
“Too drunk to even try and make a pass at you. I just… You were sad when you talked about your mother, and I don’t—I can’t fix that. I don’t know how, and I don’t think anyone can. I can keep you company, but that’s like… as good as I get.”
“Are you drunk enough to tell the truth?” she asked as they started outside. He groaned. She wasn’t really going to start on the whole age-shifting thing again, was she? They’d been getting along so well, and he didn’t want to ruin it over that debate. Again.
“Larabee says you love me. Is that true?”
“What would it matter if it was?” Clayton countered, not willing to answer her honestly. He was drunk, but not that drunk. “You’re with Brady and I can’t be with anyone because I’m a genetic freak.”
“If I told you I wasn’t with Brady?”
“I’m still a genetic freak,” Clayton told her, sighing. He started to walk away, putting a hand to his head. It was a little off, and he was a little dizzy. He was also cold. Larabee shouldn’t have ruined his coat. At least now he could almost afford to replace it.
April ran to catch up to him. “This is kind of important, you know. You can’t just blow off a question like this with your usual jokes. It seems to me we’ve been doing this thing—dance or whatever it is—and avoiding this talk, too—for a while now, and I don’t want to do it anymore. I… You got me to bite gummy bears’ heads off. And I do it to other animal shaped foods now, too. I don’t… Why you?”
“Um, er…” The pain swarmed through him, and he stumbled. He tried to stay on his feet, but he couldn’t hold on. Crap. He hadn’t been—he hadn’t felt the twinges. That had to be the alcohol. Well, here it finally was. He was going to change in front of her, and he couldn’t stop it. He dropped to the ground and curled up, waiting for it to be over.
“Clayton? Are you all right? Come on, talk to me,” April begged as she knelt next to him and shook him, trying to get a response from him. He couldn’t answer. He couldn’t stop what was happening. “Clayton! Clayton, what the hell is happening to you?”
“Just go. Leave me alone,” he begged, trying to get her to leave. “I’m… fine. I’ll just… be a minute.”
“I’m not leaving you,” April told him. She reached out to touch his face, and he winced, knowing that the transition was nearly complete. Whatever he was changing into, he would be finished soon. He closed his eyes and waited for the scream. She’d be angry. He couldn’t stop that, either. “Clay… Clayton?”
Small mercy, he supposed. He didn’t seem to have shifted into one of the extremes—no old man or little kid. He was more or less himself. A few years older or younger, perhaps. He wasn’t sure. He needed to check. “Okay. Done. Really. Over. April, can you… help me up?”
“Sure. After I stop freaking out, yeah,” April agreed, studying his face with a frown. “What was that, Clayton? What the hell did you do?”
Clay touched his head and then drew back his hand to study it. Crap. Teenager. He’d reverted to a teenage form, which made him still recognizable as himself yet changed. Damn it. What had he done? Well, he knew what he’d done. “I’m fine. I told you—sometimes that happens when I don’t expect it.”
“What… exactly, is that? What exactly happened?”
“Remember how I told you that I could shift to any age I wanted to be?” Clay asked, waiting for her to nod. Even drunk, she was having a hard time accepting this. “I can. This, though, I didn’t pick. It happens. At least once a day. A random shift.”
She touched his face again, and he waited for the reaction. Shouldn’t there be screams or running or even a slap to the face? He would have thought she’d do more than just… sit there and look at him. “Are you… okay? Does this… hurt? Can you get back?”
“It only hurts during the random ones. It’s like my body is fighting the change, but when I do it on my own, there’s no pain. I can be any age—any physical manifestation of myself at any given age. I’m also pretty sure I can’t die, though I haven’t had a lot of motivation to test that part. Pain. I go through a lot of pain, especially with Larabee’s experiments, but mostly, it’s okay and under control, and I can get back, just… not right away.”
“I always thought… you were crazy. Or lying,” she whispered, shaking her head. “I have to be drunk. So drunk I’m buying your story. This is crazy.”
“Well, I’d switch forms to prove that it’s not just the alcohol,” he grumbled. It figured she’d finally see when she was drunk, didn’t it? Now she still wouldn’t believe it. “I have to wait at least twenty minutes before I switch again. That’s the minimum I can do. If I wait longer, it doesn’t hurt as much, but before twenty minutes, the pain is too much, I can’t pull off a switch, and I usually end up unconscious. I can be out for up to a day if I push it too soon.”
“You’re still talking crazy,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t know what to think. It’s… real? How can it be real? Real people don’t do this.”
“I’ve got the lamest superhero power in the world,” he agreed, forcing himself back up. “Okay, I’m really going home now. No more gummy bears. That can wait.”
He started walking again. He kind of needed to puke now, and that was not a good thing. He was not anywhere near his apartment. If he didn’t get home fast, though, he’d be arrested, looking like a teenager. Great.
“What, April? I have to go throw up now. Really. The alcohol and gummy bears plus the shift… It all caught up to me, and… Excuse me,” he muttered before he ducked into the nearest bushes and lost everything in his stomach.
“We should get you home,” she said, standing over him. “This can’t be good.”
“Oh, I have the same physical limitations as the body when I switch,” Clay explained, sitting back. “My usual alcohol tolerance is gone now in this form. Alcohol stays with the shift. Not many things do. Kind of weird that way. I don’t know. Why are you still here? You’re just going to say this was all alcohol in the morning.”
She shook her head. “No, that’s why I have to stay. I have to be there in the morning to know that it’s not just the alcohol.”
“You never really answered my question. Well, you did, but the answer was kind of implied. Maybe you should tell me now, then. Say that it doesn’t matter if you’re a genetic freak. See? I know now.”
He laughed. “Like that changes much. You’ll deny it in the morning, and you don’t want a genetic freak.”
“Well, at least now I know you weren’t lying, and you know how I feel about liars,” she said, and he nodded a little as she came over to help him to his feet again. “Where is your place?”
“That way,” he pointed to the apartment building a couple blocks down and on the opposite side of the street. “Should have stayed at Larabee’s, I guess. So tired. Do not want to walk the rest of the way.”
“Come on,” she said, dragging him forward. “You can make it that far. It’s not so bad.”
“Hey, April—if I wasn’t a teenager covered in puke right now, would you have kissed me?”
She made him stand up more, wouldn’t let her lean against him as they walked down the sidewalk. She wasn’t going to answer, was she? He should just accept that. She would deny it in the morning. He knew that. He was going to have to be prepared for it.
Then she surprised him. “Maybe.”