I thought I had put it all behind me. It was over. The idea had been pretty ridiculous to begin with—me and April. We weren’t soulmates or anything of the sort. I did sometimes amuse myself by remembering that there was an April in a superhero story before—if you considered the teenage mutant ninja turtles heroes. Then I decided I was one of the turtles, apparently, and didn’t like the comparison quite as much.
I used to be very whiny. I guess that would qualify me for a turtle, if I hid in my shell a lot…
I did try, as I said, to put it all behind me. I started by doing what I said I would do: finishing my degree. There I was, a proud recipient of a bachelor’s degree in linguistics…
“I’m proud of you.”
“Larabee,” Clayton began, trying to decide if what he was about to say was on the mean side or the practical side—as in, Larabee needed to hear this or if it was needlessly cruel. “You’re not my father, okay? You don’t get to say you’re proud of me.”
“I can be proud of you and not your father. I’m still your friend and tech and science guy,” Larabee pointed out, hurt.
Clayton sighed. Okay, so it was needlessly cruel. He was sorry. He had to figure that he might have some kind of social disorder, something possibly like Ausperger’s, since he had trouble figuring that stuff out. The other possibility was that he was a sociopath. Or he was just kind of a loser who didn’t get social cues. He wasn’t sure. He was working on that, too.
“Sorry, Larabee. Thanks.”
“You should have stuck it out at my place,” Larabee said. “Living on your own put you back in the place of the social leper, and you still don’t know how to interact with people. At least you would have spent more time with the guild and everything. That would have been better than you constantly on your own all the time.”
“It’s good for me to be on my own,” Clayton insisted. He knew that he wasn’t really over April, and dating was problematic, so he wasn’t looking for any kind of social connection, and as for friends… Well, friends had almost the same issues as a girlfriend, just without the possibility of future children. He didn’t tell anyone about what he could do. He knew better than that. He had a fairly structured life, and that was good for him. He added a few new things to his wardrobe, he finished his classes, he took a meal out once a week, and he went to work. It was a boring life, really, but it was what he wanted.
“Sure it is. That way no one sees you mope around.”
Clayton frowned. “I thought we were celebrating, not giving lectures. And I do not mope. I am living a good, normal, responsible life. Now that I have my degree, I can see about changing things up at work, and I’ll have to pay back some of my loans, but this is what people do. I am happy to be doing what normal people do. It is not easy being a freak, but… I have adjusted.”
“This is so a lie you tell yourself to get through the day.”
“Lay off, Larabee. You’re still not getting me back as a roommate or a lab rat, and I don’t want to argue with you, but I am not going back. I am moving forward. I have ideas. I am going to use this ability of mine for some good. I have a system. It works. I am not lonely.”
“Uh huh. And if I said April was here, you wouldn’t run off to find her?”
“Nope. Because she’s not here.”
Someone tugged on the tassel of his stupid hat, and he frowned as he turned around. April gave him a mocking smile. “Those hats look ridiculous on everyone, but even more so on you, Clayton.”
He laughed. “Thanks. I see you actually changed your hat.”
“Ah, well, I still have a few semesters left of this, so no funny one for me, but until I learn to knit, no hat for me,” she said, toying with her scarf sadly. “I can’t believe I got the invitation to your graduation from the pantless roommate.”
“Oh, I don’t live with Larabee anymore,” Clayton said. “I’m sure he goes pantless all the time these days, but he’s not blinding anyone, at least, so that’s good. Nah, I have a really crappy, really small place that I think was a broom closet once, but I don’t mind that all much. It’s just a place to sleep.”
She smiled. “Well, it sounds like you’re doing a lot better.”
“I am. Still working on that less whiny, more positive thing, and I seem to have social interaction issues—I mean, I just don’t do well with people, but I’m also working on that.”
“Did you get therapy, too?”
Clayton shook his head. “No. Still have the ability to shift ages. I knew this was coming up, though, so I took Larabee’s stabilizer, and I haven’t been able to do a voluntary shift in about three days. It should wear off in a few more days, but the formula seems to be working—without any strange side effects this time.”
“Unless your new shiny personality is the side effect,” April offered with a shrug. Clayton gave her a dirty look. She shrugged. “One gummy bear sundae on me? To congratulate you for graduating?”
Clayton nodded. “Sure. I’d like that. A lot.”
He flinched as he turned around again, facing the suit. Oh, this was going to be bad, wasn’t it? “Hello, sir. I wasn’t aware you were—you’re at my graduation?”
“Relax,” the suit said, patting him on the back. “You’re not fired. We want to talk to you about your new position?”
“Really? No more archives?”
“We’re going to put that shiny new degree of yours to work. Come with me. We have much to discuss, Moore,” the suit said, leading him along, away from Larabee and April.
Clayton sighed. He looked over his shoulder. Raincheck. They’d have to get a raincheck.