Okay, so I had a girlfriend. Yes, I did include that because… Well, it is kind of one of those life-defining moments, a change from what I’d known before and even who I was before, since every relationship changes you. None more so than when you’re dating someone.
Every relationship has its ups and downs and particular challenges.
I kind of figured ours was doomed from the start. I mean, a person can put up with a lot. They can adjust to plenty, and sometimes they can forgive the biggest mistakes and sins and have the patience—as they say—of a saint.
Then again, most people didn’t have to put up with things like… their boyfriend randomly shifting ages while they were making out.
Oh, yeah. I did that.
And that’s not all…
“Clayton? Are you pouting?”
“Pouting? Why would I be pouting? Oh, right. Because I’m five years old again and this seems to happen every single time we’re alone together,” Clayton grumbled, looking down at his hands and shaking his head. He hated this. He wasn’t turning into a five year old every time that they kissed, no, but he knew he was having more random age shifts—going back to his theory that stress triggered them—but now he was starting to think he was like one of the more recent adaptations of the Hulk, and if he got too far in anything… Still, his power was lame, so all he did was shift ages, but as forgiving as April was, even she didn’t want to make out with a little kid or an old man, and if she did… Well, Clayton didn’t think he’d be okay with it.
“Not every time, and you need to relax so that you can shift back.”
“I need another fifteen minutes, and I do think I whine more when I’m this age,” he admitted with a sigh. “I don’t know, April. I want to be with you, but I don’t think this is going to work.”
She bit her lip. Trying to comfort him in any physical way would just have made things more awkward, and he shook his head as he went to the window. She came over to join him, though not for the unimpressive view. “I thought you said that it was one time a day.”
“Not just once. At least once. Stress seems to make it worse. I can take Larabee’s stabilizer, but that leaves me unable to shift for days sometimes, and if I do manage a random shift before it fully kicks in, I’m stuck like that. Plus… I think I need to have the random shifts,” Clay began, thinking out loud. “I’m not sure why. I think it’s a by-product of the change or genetics—my body’s own weird way of stabilizing itself.”
“Okay, so no stopping it,” she agreed, reaching for him and then pulling her hand back before she patted him on the head or something. “You think this is… stress, maybe?”
“Oh, yeah, because I was a loser in high school and my other dating experiences were more of the horror story variety, so I have no idea how to act in a relationship,” he muttered, shaking his head again, frustrated.
“You just said it. You don’t know how to act, and it is stressing you out. It doesn’t have to. I’ve seen you at your worst already, remember? You stole my necklace. You puked in the bushes. I’m okay with who you are. Stop freaking out about it.”
He looked down unhappily. “Maybe the problem is that… I’m still not. I think I have a handle on my ability and my life, and then something happens and I go back to where I was when I first discovered it.”
“What, naked running through the town? You’re not doing that now, and if this has anything to do with that idiot Cailey’s reaction, you know that I am not her,” April insisted. She knelt down next to him. “Yes, I admit—talking to you when you’re like this is weird as hell at first. Larabee, though, he’s definitely adjusted to it. He doesn’t even react anymore. You’re still making it more than it is. I know that’s a part of your nature, but it’s not… you don’t have to make it like this, you know. This part? This doesn’t—it bothers me, but not because you’re shifting. Because it ends in sulking or fighting and you trying not so subtly to tell me we should break up because you’re a genetic freak. Again. That part bothers me a lot.”
He sighed. “I don’t see why you’d want this. Brady might have been a bit of a jealous jerk type, but he at least didn’t turn five and whine.”
“Not literally, no, but everyone whines now and again,” she said. “Stop comparing yourself to Brady. I don’t want him. He was—he was around when my parents died, and I thought that meant a lot more than it did. It was just me needing not to be alone, but the thing is—I still was alone with Brady. I’m not alone with you.”
“I’m a social retard, too,” Clay reminded her. “What, now that you love me you’ve conveniently forgotten that?”
“You would think I’d want them more since I’m in this form, but no, I don’t want any right now.”
She rolled her eyes. “I meant that you reached out with your gummy bears. You got me to see past my mood and memories and everything. Arguing with you was better than kissing Brady, but then I kissed you and that was better, too. Then we fought over the booth and then we had that moment where it almost looked like we had it all figured out, and Brady was back, but I didn’t want him, and you decided you didn’t want me, and we all moved on. Then Larabee calls me out of the blue and invites me to your graduation. It was all still there, and you knew it, too.”
He started to stretch. “Where’s the clock? Has it been fifteen minutes yet?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not. Well, I guess I kind of am, but—” Clayton looked down at his hand for a moment. “I want to kiss you, and I am so not doing it in this form, okay?”
“I want this to be over with.”
“You don’t get a license to mold young minds and turn them into the zombified masses that think that the latest boy band is the greatest thing or that certain novels actually pass for literature that easily, do you?” Clayton teased, and April kicked him under the table. He smiled, reaching for one of her fries.
“I’m just sick of being in school,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t even want to think about my time as a student teacher. This is going to be hell.”
“I could take those months off and help you with the classes.”
“Oh, sure you could.”
“I can be any age I want to be, remember?” Clayton prodded, and she shook her head as he nodded. “Yes. I could come and haunt your class everyday. Oh, teacher—”
“Don’t you dare. It’s weird enough when you do it randomly, but I think coming into my classroom pretending to be a little kid so you can spend time with me is more than pushing it,” she told him. She finished the last of her milkshake, and he pushed his over to her side of the table. She put her straw in it and started turning it around as she talked. “Speaking of your job… I don’t think your boss would be okay with you taking months off.”
Clayton shrugged. “I’m a pencil pusher in a cubicle. I don’t really think they’ll miss me.”
“Oh, no, I think they will because your boss seemed to feel the need to chat me up the other day.”
“I was sitting in the park like I always do, and there he was. Suit and all. He sat down next to me like maybe one of the kids was his, but I sincerely doubt that. Anyway, he’s sitting there for a while, then pretends like he just noticed me, and he said I looked familiar. I said I didn’t know why, but he insisted he was good with faces. Then he brought up you. Asked me if I was your girlfriend and said he remembered me from the graduation.”
“Okay, that is… creepy.”
She nodded, leaning forward. “Clayton, I don’t think that—You might be right. They might know what you can do. I don’t know what they’re doing with this little cloak and dagger thing of theirs, but I don’t think it’s good.”
He frowned. He hadn’t been happy in his job for a long time, but he’d kept going because it was his job, and he needed it. Even though they’d started joking about getting a place together and even a few awkward jokes about that whole “m” word, they both had college loans to think about and couldn’t live on her income—not that he’d even suggest that. He had to keep his job or find something else. Still, he was a bit worried about trying to switch. Did people actually leave the CIA without dying? He might be a pencil pusher, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have to have clearance. Now, with what she’d told him about his boss and the times the man had appeared in his life before…
“I’m not sure I can quit, April.”
She sighed. “Maybe you need the insider information of being there. Or maybe you can lull them into a false sense of security. I don’t know. I’m not sure what to tell you.”
“I could ask Larabee—but Larabee works for them, too.”
“You don’t think he’s a part of it, do you?”