I sat down and fiddled with my shoes. Candace had to have a look at my feet before I went about stuffing the socks in, which worked better than I hoped. Allison sipped her strawberry concoction, the lines of her mouth undulating slowly. Candace's lines throbbed like they were caught up in the wind when she inhaled her pineapple one. Of course, their influences covered the cups.
I drank my blend. Candace began and dominated a new discussion.
"We need to take more and better photos of my brother. Allison, can your phone take like really good pictures? Mine is kinda grainy. Mom has a DSLR at home."
One that mom used for taking photographs of things for her art, displays, merchandise, and posting online. It was a great camera to be sure but mom would also have killed me if Candace borrowed it.
Allison took out her phone and prodded it. I shared the same type of phone as Candace, so I'd be no help. After a minute, Allison smiled and offered her phone to Candace. Before saying anything, she snapped a quick shot of me. She reviewed it and rocked her head.
After taking another one of herself, Candace announced the verdict of, "It's better than mine. It'll have to do."
On our left side, near the taco place, a woman pushed an infant in a stroller. Not a converted baby nor a converted mother. Allison noticed the baby and gave a quick smile before it let loose with a piercing screech which echoed through the atrium of the food court above us. Candace poked at her ears and groaned. Allison gave a laugh.
I hadn't seen a converted baby in a while but I knew they existed. A strange thought, to live your entire life from birth as an animated human. The conversion rates for infants were slightly lower than average. Something like one in two hundred. And rarely is it knowable a child will be born animated. And animated parents almost never give birth to animated children. Mom ranted once about scams purporting to tell if a child will be animated or not and provide assurances one way or another, usually by skipping critical, mandatory vaccinations.
Allison ran a finger along her colorful drink after she looked away from the baby. Candace watched her and asked, "What is it?"
Looking up, Allison fidgeted and shrugged. "Oh…nothing. It's just my mom was talking about how she got married still in her teens and had me soon after. And how the same happened with my grandmother and my great-grandmother. Like some dumb family tradition. She was nearly planning what kind of room her grandkids would have. But, since I changed, she's dropped it. I mean, it's kind of a relief to not have her breathing down my neck. But just because I look different doesn't mean I don't want to have kids someday." She pressed her nail into the cup then wrapped her arms.
Candace touched her on the wrist and assured her, "It'll be fine. You remember what we talked about with your parents, right?"
Allison let out a deep breath and gave a nod before saying, "I just…I wish I had parents like yours sometimes. I mean…I love mine. Well, my mom and my step-dad, at least. But…yours have been through this and I just feel so totally lost."
Scooting over quickly, Candace gave Allison a big hug. I felt a sudden whim to hug her too. Couldn't quite explain it. But as soon as Candace released her, I put my arms around her too.
I could sense the surprise on Candace's face. Not that I cared. I was glad to see Allison smile. After a moment, Allison chuckled and said, "Thank you. Everyone always thinks of me as the strong one but this…it's a big challenge. But…I don't feel bad about it. Actually, the best part of all this is just seeing myself and being amazed. All the worry and anxiety comes from fearing what others see in my face now. But that probably sounds silly."
We both assured her it wasn't and she went back to slowly sipping her drink.
Social things were definitely at the top of my list of current concerns. Not as though I was the sort to set a room on fire socially. That was Candace. Actually, she would set a room on fire, spray the flames in wide arcs, dance around the pyres, and then razz the firemen. I watched it happen a lot and yet I still couldn't quite get it. She often managed to forge organizing connections with groups of strangers, with herself at the center, before she even walked into a room. Still, she wasn't 'concerned' with popularity like some people.
For example, our high school had a multitude of groups. The Art and Anime Clubs merged for a while with some other clubs before a spectacular fragmentation. Animated Awareness clubs cross-pollinated everything from the religious clubs to the drama clubs. Some were more keen on converted members and others all but violated equal-inclusion laws with made-up rules. Then, there was the Candace Brown Fan Club.
It was a literal, registered, and active fan club. Candace made the occasional appearance and I got roped into running it for a few weeks. Some meetings bordered on creepy. And Candace made it because there were previously no clubs dedicated to particular people on campus and she wanted to see if she could do it.
I had no expectations I would have a fan club come Monday or anytime soon. There was a vague idea in my head of skipping a few days but I knew that news of conversion would get out through the Candace pipeline, if it hadn't already via text messages she'd covertly sent. Still, I would have to go eventually.
In my mind, I imagined arriving at class as an animated girl. I wouldn't be the first but that didn't help me feel any more keen on the possibility. I mentally transported mom's image, only younger, into my classroom. That would be the toughest moment. I never liked that teachers took newly-animated students to the front and reintroduce them to everyone.
I'd probably die a little inside but that's school on an average day. Then, I tried to imagine myself with my friends. They'd met enough of my family that I knew they expected me to change eventually. I knew Amy wouldn't bat an eye. Craig and Casey would definitely ask some awkward questions I wouldn't be able to answer. Pete, however, I worried about. But then I usually did that anyway. They were my friends though, so I knew it would be okay.
Then I imagined arriving at class as an animated girl like Parker. I stopped right there and went back to finishing my drink. Candace and Allison had been talking about something, which I caught the tail end of. Happily, Allison gave a soft laugh. Candace gave me a look and asked, "So…where should we go now?"
I was about to answer when Candace's eyes flicked to the top of my head. Allison gave a little gasp. It was one of those few moments in life where I actually wished there was a giant, horrifying insect sitting on my head but I knew it was because the changes had moved to my hair.
As calmly as I could manage, I asked, "What is it?"
Keeping her eyes locked on me, Candace reached down into her purse and passed me a compact. I could've just pulled on a lock beside my face because I noticed a bright, stray hair. I ignored it and grabbed the compact. I paused before opening it, took a breath, and snapped it open.
My hair was bright pink. Very bright pink. Usually, it was a mellow, reddish-brown like Candace once had. Now, it was like someone had gone to town on it with scorching, pink dye. And not a cotton-candy, soft pink. A bright pink near the color Candace once had her nails painted. Bright, undeniable, blazing-from-the-top-of-my-head-like-I-lit-it-on-fire pink. And my hair looked shaggier as well but that wasn't my top concern (yet).
My hand trembled a little as I looked at my reflection. Just the hair. Although my facial hair was sparse. But my hair. My mouth dipped open a little. Same mouth. But my hair!
I heard Allison's voice stammer. All I heard from Candace was the artificial shutter click of Allison's phone. I glowered at her and she hid the phone sheepishly.
Finally, Allison offered, "Maybe…you can dye it…" It was really the only possibility. But mom had tried and failed to change the color of hers a few times before accepting it. For some, it was successful. For most, the hair just grew out faster to show the altered color. Mom earned the nickname "Rapunzel" for a while.
Candace tapped a finger on the table, leaving a colorful little glow where she touched, and looked me in the eye. I looked over at her. I snapped the compact closed and passed it back to her. She put her hands over mine and said calmly, "Bro? You are going to be okay."
The glittering color of her eyes looked even more intense than usual. Her words left no doubt. I wished I could've felt that same determination for myself or willed it into me by her expression alone. I could hear sounds beyond our table.
There were chuckles. I could feel eyes on me. It wasn't overt. It wasn't someone screaming as if I was sitting there naked. It was painfully subtle but I could feel every inch of it across me. They knew what was happening to me. I couldn't hide it from them or myself. I was turning into an animated…girl.
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Bio: I'm MajorKerina and I love to collaborate creatively with a group of friends to make tales where people have their genders, identities, and very realities questioned, contorted, and turned upside-down. I like slice-of-life with a spicing of the supernatural, strange, or surreal. Reality with a scent of the impossible. You can find me on DeviantArt, Twitter, ScribbleHub, and other places.