I settled into an almost routine with school. No, I couldn’t seem to get approved for a loan that would make it possible to attend classes, buy books and supplies, and move out of Larabee’s place, so that was just something I learned to live with—though I was careful to keep my eyes down until I was certain that Larabee was wearing clothes, and I kept the bathroom well stocked with disinfectant and put that stuff that’s supposed to autoclean your shower all through the room just to counteract the smell.
Then there was school itself. Fortunately for me—kind of, since I’m not what anyone would call lucky—one of the things Larabee had dosed with the ooze was a hooded sweatshirt that was a bit too big for me. I wore that most of the time. That way, if I switched forms during class, I was usually able to hide in it. It wasn’t as great when I was a kid, but it was better than nothing.
I almost had a handle on my ability when it came to school. I was coping.
There was just one problem.
I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s that thing that colleges do that supposedly makes us better people overall, taking these classes outside of our major. We’re well-rounded that way. Right.
It’s more like torture.
Well, it is if your assigned lab partner happens to be the girl who thinks you’re a brain damaged weirdo…
“I can’t believe I got stuck with you.”
Clayton gave the girl in the hat a glare. She had a name, and he should probably know it by now, but he didn’t care. She acted like this was all his fault. He hadn’t asked for this. He’d had the bad timing of walking in late—it didn’t matter what class he was supposed to be in, he seemed to be incapable of getting there on time, mostly because of his unique “problem” of randomly shifting—and the professor had told him to go to this table and be her lab partner, and he hadn’t wanted to do it, but he didn’t have a lot of choice, either.
It was an assignment. It was for a grade. He needed to get this stupid science credit out of the way so he could stop worrying about gen ed classes, and then he got stuck with her.
“It’s not like I want to do this with you, either, you know. You are probably my least favorite person other than my roommate.”
“Oh? What does he do that’s so terrible?”
“Walks around naked.”
She grimaced. “Okay, that would do it.”
“See? You get it. I have had the hardest time convincing him that it’s an issue. He doesn’t think that it is. He thinks things are just fine even he’s going around without pants,” Clayton muttered, shaking his head. “He fails to see the problem. But there is definitely a problem.”
She actually smiled. “Oh, I agree.”
“You like that I’m stuck with a pantless roommate, don’t you?”
She shrugged. “Maybe a little. Maybe it’s a bit of a fitting punishment for being so rude.”
“Nude, rude, they rhyme, but I don’t need to be punished any more than I already have been, thank you very much,” Clayton grumbled. He knew that she still didn’t believe him about the age thing, but he didn’t care. He had other things he could complain about—Larabee, being an orphan or just abandoned, growing up in the foster system, graduating early, being broke and getting robbed of everything including his refrigerator. He was pretty much cursed, when his ability was factored in. He knew it, and he’d more or less accepted it. He was whining about it less. He hoped, anyway.
“You still telling that story about being able to shift into any age?”
“No. I don’t tell stories,” Clay said. He looked at the papers for their assignment. “I think I might need Larabee to translate this for me. I thought this was a beginner—well, a low level—science course.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” she muttered, setting her copy aside. “At least it’s not due today.”
“No, just next class period.”
“Well, do you think this ‘Larabee’ of yours can translate it for you in the meantime?”
“Possibly. The only real question is if he’ll have pants on when he does it.”
“Clayton’s got a girlfriend.”
“I do not, Larabee. She’s a lab partner, and she hates me. We’re just trying to get through this semester without failing so that we can both go onto other things. She’s going for early education, and I’m… well, I guess I’m not sure what I’ll do. If I wasn’t inept at it, I think science might be useful for figuring out what’s wrong with me, but I’m just not getting this. I thought I would, but I don’t. I’m starting to wonder how I managed to graduate early.”
“That’s really not much of an accomplishment anymore, given the way they’ve dropped standards and given kids so much hand-holding these days. The public education system… It needs work, to say the least,” Larabee said, shaking his head. “So, when does the girlfriend get here?”
“She’s not a girlfriend! Do you ever listen? And do you realize what a disaster that would be? Me dating? After what happened with Cailey when I found out I was cursed, I think it’s best if I don’t ever date,” Clay said, shaking his head at the horror of that idea. He was going to be single for the rest of his life, and he had to figure that was for the best. Really. He couldn’t risk passing on his mutation to a child. That would be cruel.
“I think it would help if you got out more, Clayton. You’re way too stressed.”
“I do not need to date to relieve stress. That would only make me more stressed than I already am, and I think stress aggravates the random shifts, so no,” Clay said, rubbing his forehead.
“Is it that bad even when translated?” his lab partner asked, sliding into the seat next to him. “Because I really don’t want it to be that bad.”
“Hey,” Larabee began, and she gave him a look. “I’m Clayton’s friend. Larabee. I’m the science and tech guy.”
“Who doesn’t wear pants.”
Larabee shot Clay a dirty look. “Do you tell everyone that?”
“No. Not everyone,” Clay grinned, and Larabee groaned. Ah, that almost made this worth it. “Can you explain this to us now or what?”
“You’re not going to offer your girlfriend a coffee at least?”
“She’s not my girlfriend! She wouldn’t want to be my girlfriend. Would you stop saying that? I mean it, stop,” Clay said, wishing he wasn’t stuck in the middle of the booth now. “Sorry. Larabee is clearly delusional—but at least he knows science, right?”
“I guess. I’m just glad he has pants on after what you told me.”