I don’t really remember how I got home that day—Larabee must have picked me up, and he did lecture me a bit for going out in the first place, but I was so sick of the bed and the tentacle that I’d actually considered walking in front of a bus while I sat on that bench.
I owed April. I should have given her more than two turns in the booth. It would have been fair. Kind. I should have. I wasn’t very good at this. I had a habit of getting wrapped up in my own problems instead of thinking of anyone else.
Granted, my problems would like to overshadow everyone else’s, what with my ability, Larabee, the experiments, and the tentacle.
At least, though, I was able to get rid of one of them.
No, not Larabee. Unfortunately.
“Clayton,” Larabee said, shaking Clay’s shoulder. Clayton opened his eyes a little. He didn’t want to be awake right now. No, not at all. He wanted to go back to sleep where he wasn’t a genetic freak with a tentacle. “Hey, buddy, good news.”
“You don’t know the meaning of the word, Larabee. Go away. Now.”
“What’s gone?” Clayton asked, and then his brain caught back up with him. That really would be good news. It wouldn’t be like it always was. He wasn’t waking up to some new horror. He was waking up to something good, something almost impossible. Even if he was the king of impossible things, the one with the freakish ability to change his age. He took a deep breath, looking at his back. “I can’t tell. Are you sure?”
“Is it hitting you?”
“No, but get me a mirror. Now. I’m not taking your word for it,” Clayton insisted. He really wasn’t. Larabee had caused him enough problems and pain lately. The one good thing about it was seeing April again, getting a chance to apologize in person, even if she hadn’t accepted it, again. He’d at least made sure that she heard him.
“Here. Believe it now?”
Clayton positioned the mirror so that he could actually see his back. It wasn’t easy, and Larabee ended up taking the mirror and holding it for him. “It really is gone, isn’t it? That’s hard to believe. Of course, it was hard to believe in the first place.”
“I told you I could fix it.”
“Larabee, if you experimented on me, again, I am going to have to kill you. You know that, don’t you?” Clay asked, getting out of bed. For the first time in weeks, he felt like going out, not just to look for a bus, but to enjoy himself for a change. He could always go see if the booth was open. Even if it wasn’t, that was okay. He was ready to enjoy a day for once.
“I’m going out.”
“Are you sure? There could be side effects,” Larabee began, and Clayton stopped, looking over at the scientist. The man had to be joking, right? It wasn’t really like he would have dared to give Clay something else, would he? After everything Clay had already been through? That was it. He was moving. No way was he staying here again.
“I want all my rent back, and I’m moving out. This isn’t right, Larabee. I am not a lab rat, strange ability or no strange ability. You gave me a tentacle. Side effects? You think that I should worry about more of them? What did you do to me this time?” Clayton demanded. “I don’t want to be part of any more experiments. I want a plain, boring, normal life! This crap has to stop. It’s bad enough what I have to deal with because of this ability, but I am not going to be a lab rat for you. Ever. Again. I am done with that. I am not… No, I’m going out. I’m going to forget about you and the tentacle, and when I get back, I’m moving out.”
“You don’t have to do that, Clayton. It is going to be different. The tentacle is gone, I’ve pretty much worked out all the kinks from the stabilizer, and it’s all going to work. I promise.”
“No pills, no nothing. I’m done. I am still moving out. School is almost done, and that means I will finally be able to afford a place of my own again,” Clayton said, resolved. He was going to change things. No more experiments. No more moaning about his power. The tentacle was gone, and now he could really move on. “Goodbye, Larabee.”
“Clayton! Wait! Come back!”
“I thought I got two uses of the booth. You’re here.”
“Sorry. Didn’t know you were planning on using it today,” Clayton said, turning his spoon in his sundae. “Can I finish, at least? I’m celebrating.”
April sighed. She leaned over, pushing on his back where the tentacle had been, and he flinched a littler, but it was still gone, and that was good. He was glad. “I take it that you’re celebrating the loss of your tumor. Did you beat cancer or just a strange side effect?”
He lifted up his spoon and licked it off. “Just a side effect. I’m as screwed up as ever otherwise, but I am at least free of the thing on my back. Want a gummy bear?”
She frowned for a second, but when he held out one of the clear looking ones to her, she took it and bit its head off. He smiled at her, and she rolled her eyes as she sat down. “What is with you and the gummy bears, anyway?”
“One of my small joys in life, and trust me, there are not many,” Clayton assured her. “I am entering a new phase of my life. I’m going to be better from now on. Yes. That’s it.”
“Really? You going to stop pretending you can shift to any age?”
Clayton shook his head. He didn’t know what it was about her, but her timing seemed to be practically perfect. He’d just had a random shift before he came in and ordered his sundae. He couldn’t show her just now. “I can’t prove it to you right now, but I am capable of doing it.”
“I’d believe it if you actually proved it, just once.”
“Twenty minute limit. Gotta wait a bit. More gummy bears?”
“So, what are you really planning on changing?”
“Moving out of Larabee’s, finishing school, and trying not to be as whiny as I usually am,” Clayton answered with a slight smile. He bit into another gummy bear, sending a handful her way. She picked them up and started eating. “It’s not much of a plan, but it’s a start.”
“What do you think you’ll do?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Eat gummy bears, for one thing.”