Naturally, that couldn’t stand. No way. No how. I couldn’t afford to lose the only place I felt comfortable going out to eat. That was not happening. I immediately began working on a plan to get my booth back.
It was a long and ugly war.
April was determined, and so was I. Neither of us was going to budge an inch. She was stubborn, and I was desperate. I needed that booth. It was my booth. She could have the bench. She didn’t need both of them—and she didn’t need the booth like I did.
Of course, she refused to believe that I needed it…
“I don’t understand, Clayton. If she’s your girlfriend, why doesn’t she just share the booth with you? Why do you have four plans of how to get this booth back? It’s not even a good place to sit. No one ever brings your food there,” Larabee muttered, picking up Clayton’s papers and shaking his head. “I think we should create a stealth field for you. That would be awesome.”
“Larabee, you still can’t figure out how you made the ooze that fixed the clothes, and your latest experiment has you being investigated for crimes against humanity.”
“You’re exaggerating, and I think that my ideas are still more practical than you trying to get a booth back from your girlfriend.”
“April is not my girlfriend. Don’t quote Shakespeare, or I will hurt you,” Clayton muttered. He didn’t know why that didn’t seem to sink in. Ever since Larabee had seen April’s little show for psycho Amy, he’d been convinced that the whole thing was real and that the ring really was Clayton’s mother’s, despite knowing better because Clay had no idea who his mother was. “April is just a… lab partner. She helped get rid of Amy, but she made me give up the booth, and I have to get it back. Don’t you get it, Larabee? I can’t eat out in a place where people pay attention to you. They might see me shift ages. That can’t happen. I need that booth.”
“Or a stealth field.”
“Fine, make the stupid stealth field, but in the meantime, give me back my plans for the booth. I’m going to start on them today.”
“You’re not really thinking of taking that ring from her, are you? That’s pretty low.”
Clayton sighed. “In the first place, I don’t think I could get it without her noticing. In the second, I don’t want to do it. I was writing down anything I could think of, and you know what? With April I would have to play dirty. She did, and I lost the booth. So I will get it back however I can.”
“Stealth field is more useful.”
“Maybe, but you’re the one who could make it and would want to, not me. I almost failed that lab even with your help. I’m not that smart. I’m just a nice genetic freak, and as soon as I’ve had my random shift for the day, I’m going off to get my booth back.”
Larabee shook his head. “I have a theory I’d like to share with you first.”
“I don’t think I want to know. I can almost guarantee that I don’t want to know. Just stop there,” Clay told him, getting up. He had a feeling he knew where Larabee was going with that—back to the idea of Clay dating April, and that was not happening. Not only had Clay sworn off dating until he found a way to stop his stupid ability, April was the last girl he ever wanted to go out with. They pretty much hated each other, and that was how it was going to stay. He didn’t want to see her again—not after he got his booth back.
He looked at his fingers. Because he intended to go out today, the twinge was not coming. Fine. He’d force it to come early and go out anyway. He needed to talk to April about the booth. She might see reason. Or she might have another price that he could somehow pay. He doubted that, but talking couldn’t hurt. He would try that first, and then he would move on to the more evil ideas that he had a feeling that he would need.
He would probably find April in the park. She’d be at the bench.
Why wasn’t the bench enough for her? It should be enough. Then he could have his booth, and she could have the bench. It was a fair arrangement, right? She was just doing this because he said he wanted it, wasn’t she? That had to be it.
That was so like a girl, wasn’t it?
“April, we need to talk.”
She lowered her book and looked at him. “Do I know you?”
“Not funny,” Clayton muttered, and then he replayed the last minute and groaned. He’d been so focused on getting to the park to confront her that he’d missed it. The twinge. How had he missed the twinge? Was that even possible? He sighed, looking down at his hand. Okay, so he was a kid again. He didn’t care. “I want my booth back.”
“Your what?” she asked, frowning. She sat back and shook her head. “Oh, I should have known that he’d be this low. Look, kid, how much did he pay you to say you were him and that you wanted his booth back?”
“Nothing, April. This is me. I’m Clayton. I told you that I could shift to any age I wanted. See? Here I am,” Clay answered, turning around a little. “You got the bench, but I need the booth, so let’s negotiate. Please? This is why I need the booth. Because things like this happen to me at least once a day. I didn’t choose to become a little kid. It just… happened. So I need the booth so I can eat in public. I like being able to go out every once and a while. It’s only fair that I get it back.”
“He trained you pretty good. I hope he pays you because you’re worth it, but come on,” April stood and looked around. “Where is he? Oh, wait, he can’t be here because if I saw him I would know that he was a pathetic loser who hired a kid to beg me for a booth that he lost fair and square. Go home, tell Clayton—if you see him, that is—that he is not getting the booth back. In fact, I feel like a chili burger right now, so I’m going to go use it.”
Clay’s hands balled into fists. “Exactly what more do you need as proof, lady? I’m standing right here as a freaking kid! I can tell you about every single class we had together. This is not some actor! It’s me! I’m the kid. I’m Clayton in the form of a kid.”
“Oh, you’re so dedicated. It’s cute,” she said, patting him on the head. “He’s definitely not paying you enough. Still, it’s not going to work, so you can stop now.”
Clayton shook his head, tempted to smack her. She was not listening. She just… didn’t. Ever. He reached for her scarf and yanked it off. “It’s me. I made you bite the head off a gummy bear.”
“Sorry, kid, but you’re not going to convince me that you’re Clayton.”
“Look, I’d switch again, but I can’t for at least another fifteen minutes,” he said, wishing he could shake some sense into her. “I mean it. There is—I’d pass out and be out for a day if I did it now, or I’d do it to prove it to you.”
She shook her head. “You must be related to him, huh? I’m sorry. That sucks. But you can have some of my fries if you want, kid.”
Clayton’s stomach rumbled. He was hungry. And if he ate with her, maybe the time would pass and he could show her that it really was him. “Okay.”