If I had any real illusions that I would be suddenly and wonderfully promoted to a field agent, they would have been crushed hopes then and there. Fortunately for me, my new pragmatism had kicked in, and I was more or less certain that I’d never see the field. I had linguistics as my background, and I could translate, maybe, analyze a little, but I was going to be at a desk the rest of my life.
Given my continued failure to learn self-defense—yes, you’ll laugh at the option that I finally settled on—I was not really qualified to be out in the field as any kind of agent. I would improve my skill with languages, of course, and eventually get a better clearance, but this was the life I could expect.
Larabee would call it my mild-mannered alter ego.
I’m not sure I had much of an ego to begin with, let alone an alter one, and if I did… How was that supposed to be a good thing, a bunch of egos running around?
“Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating here? Clayton has graduated. He has a degree, and he’s got a life he insists that he loves, he just got promoted, and this is a celebration, right? April, am I missing something here? Does something seem wrong with this picture?” Larabee asked, nudging her shoulder a little. She gave Clayton a look, and he passed her a gummy bear.
“Someone does seem to be missing the point of a celebration,” April agreed reluctantly. She studied the gummy bear for a moment. “Where’s the bright and cheerful Clayton that you’re supposed to be, anyway? You got a free gummy bear sundae. At least smile about that.”
“I’m sorry,” Clayton told them, taking a spoonful of ice cream. “I should have rescheduled again because I am so exhausted these days, and that’s not fair, but we kept putting this off and putting it off, and it was looking like it might not happen at this rate. I just thought—free night, finally get together, and I didn’t expect to be this drained.”
“I am telling you—it’s those florescent lights. They suck the soul right out of you. I’m going to prove it eventually,” Larabee said, and April giggled as she sucked from her milkshake. The scientist turned to her. “Laugh it up, but it’s true. I know it is. Look at Clayton over there. He’s practically proof enough. Ever since they gave him that cubicle, he has looked half-dead after an eight hour shift.”
“I work twelve hour shifts, actually,” Clay corrected, biting into a gummy bear. “And it’s not the lights. It’s the mind-numbing drudgery that is paperwork. I swear, I was better off in the archives. And they were more comfortable than the cubicle. More places to hide.”
April shook her head. “Exactly what is it you do, anyway?”
“Ah, here’s the funny part, right? He can’t tell you that. His job is actually classified.”
She gave Larabee a look. The scientist nodded. Clay sighed. “It is, actually. Low level, one of the lowest you can have, but hey, it’s a job and some people think I’m more interesting than I am when I say it’s classified.”
She snorted. “They don’t know you, do they?”
She smiled back at him, and he focused his attention on his sundae. They were still not really out of that awkward phase they had been in the last time they spoke. He knew he still felt something toward her, and she might even feel something back, but she still didn’t believe the age-shifting thing and he was pretty sure that she was back with Brady. Clay thought maybe they could be friends, possibly, but then again, it was still awkward.
“How are your classes?” Clay asked, changing the subject. “Are they about ready to send you out into the world to change the minds of millions of children—possibly corrupting them in the process?”
She took one of his gummy bears and threw it at him. “That is not why I want to be a teacher.”
“It would be why I would be one.”
Clayton and April both gave Larabee a look, wincing a little. He shrugged, again not seeing what was wrong with what he said or did, as usual. Clay stirred his ice cream in the bowl, turning it into more of a shake than a sundae, as he always did when it got this melted. “Why do you want to be a teacher anyway?”
“Only child who wanted a big family and can’t have kids of my own, so… yeah, I’ll just teach. Maybe adopt later.”
“And Brady likes this idea of adoption?” Larabee asked, and Clayton kicked him under the table. He pretended innocence, and Clayton shook his head as he ate more of his ice cream, not wanting to think about April and Brady—and trying to keep himself from asking about the kids of her own thing.
“It’s not something we’ve really discussed,” April said. “Besides, I don’t know that it matters what Brady thinks. And… gullible is written on the ceiling.”
Larabee looked up, and Clayton laughed. April smiled. “It’s simple. I like kids. I want to teach. There is no great mystery behind it. Some people just like the idea of teaching. Oh, I do also hate teenagers because they just seem to get dumber each generation, so that’s why little kids. There’s still hope for them.”
“Yeah, the rest of us are lost causes,” Clayton agreed, and April smiled. Larabee kicked Clay under the table, and he glared back. April was maybe a friend, nothing else, and it was fine. Mostly. “Well, thank you for the sundae and the company, and I’m sorry I wasn’t better company myself. I’ve got to get some sleep before I go back to the torture that is my cubicle in the morning.”
“I could work on that whole sleep pill thing. Well, no sleep pill. I think if we found a way to—”
“People sleep for a reason,” April and Clayton interrupted at the same time, looking at each other with awkward smiles.
Clay slid out of the booth and patted Larabee on the back. “Just stay away from anything that involves experimentation on humans, okay?”
“It would be awesome, though.”
“And no experimenting on yourself, either,” Clay added. “I’ll see you at work, but we are going out to eat this time because whatever you brought from home needs to be gone over by the CDC or a hazmat team.”
“That’s an exaggeration.”
“Come by the house, though. The new suit is ready.”
“New suit?” April frowned a little. “Does Larabee do your tailoring?”
“No, but he likes to show me what I could wear if I didn’t hate spandex and had a really interesting superhero ability instead of the one I’ve got,” Clayton explained, shaking his head. “I’m just glad he never tried to model them for me.”
April laughed. “I think that would be… interesting, to say the least.”
“Come over for dinner sometime. I’ll show you the whole collection I’ve got,” Larabee offered, and Clayton shook his head, trying to warn her off. She grinned, though, and he groaned. This was going to end badly—if only because of the humiliation factor of those costumes. “You’re invited, too, Clayton. I’ll show you the new one. It’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.”
He was going to regret this, but he couldn’t let April see those on her own. “Uh, yeah, sure.”