I did try on the jean jacket before I left and, had my wallet not been aching so much and the day been a colder one, I would've considered it. It was also unisex enough I didn't find it intimidating.
Setting it back in its place, I scanned for Allison. She was trying on a few shades which didn't look right for her. Her indifferent expressions told me she agreed. I approached her with a wave and she smiled back.
She asked me how I was doing. I took a moment to process. I didn't want to deluge her, so I just said, with a sigh, "Holding up."
When I asked her how she was doing, she fiddled with a pair of shades and told me, "I feel bad bringing it up after all you've gone through…" I stopped her and assured her it was fine.
She continued, "It's…I just wish I had a sense of what comes next. Candace has given me some good advice but I keep worrying it will get worse with my family. I don't think they hate me. But there have been things which really scare me. I'm thinking maybe if I got shades to wear home then maybe it'll help so they don't see my big eyes as much…" She pushed the shades aside and I grimaced.
I leaned forward and reminded her, "You said this felt right before."
She nodded but without enthusiasm. "Yeah, but what if I'm wrong? I dunno. Mom was talking about mind control stuff and deprogramming from TV." I had an inkling of what she meant. More conspiracy theories about animation and that the reason people accepted becoming strange, animated beings so readily was due to mind control. The sources were various depending on who or what the amorphous bad thing of the week was but the supposed solution were fly-by-night-style deprogramming "clinics" to "set right" those who had been altered. I really hoped that wasn't in Allison's future.
Thinking back to what Cordelia had said about a sleepover, I put forth that idea to Allison on a whim. I didn't want her to sink back into worry right away, into loneliness. She wiggled her mouth line with indecision but remarked, "If it's okay with Candace…"
Immediately, from behind me, I heard Candace exclaim, "Of course, it is!" Naturally, Allison murmured that she'd need to phone her parents. Meanwhile, I prodded Candace for sneaking up on us and listening in. She flashed her color blob of a tongue and asked, "Well? Finished yet?"
I must've given her an obvious mouth line sign because she dialed back her mood from hyper Candace to a more subdued version when I reacted to her question. I told her as much as I was willing, "I don't know what's going on with me. Honestly. I'm kinda between." I could feel the obvious blush color my cheeks at that admission.
Candace's expression stilled and she slowly put her arms around me. The disconcerting part was how easily she enveloped me with her embrace. She resolved, "You are you as I am me. And I know it'll be alright. You've got me. You've got mom and dad. You've got everyone always whether you're a cute art boy or a cute art girl or a talking horse or whatever. I told Allison this and I'm gonna tell you this too but…if you dare use it against me, I will make your life the most adorable hell you can imagine." She gave me a quick, piercing glare with those stony eyes. I nodded and held out my hands in submission.
She continued, "I was absolutely lost when I changed. I was confused. I was worried. I was disappointed and angry. All at once. All the incredible possibilities and I turn into someone's mediocre drawing of ME? And I didn't get to be some sort of changeling to pick all sorts of things? I called bull on the whole thing."
I frowned and recalled all her exuberance and don't-care attitude. She smirked at me. "Well, that's me, isn't it? And it is. But I was also disappointing to me. Maybe I was less than I thought I was. I had no clue. But I kept up and I thought about it. And I came to realize I liked all the wild and exuberant possibilities more than I liked being them. In the end, I am me and I realized the drawing me, my face, was my face. Actually, a bit better than I could draw myself but it was there."
I asked her why she hadn't mentioned it before. She leaned back and calmly said, "Because I knew you'd need it when or if it happened to you too."
I stood there staring for a long moment till Candace gave me a beep on the nose and a smirk. She flipped out her phone and announced, "If Allison's parents say staying over is okay then we have a decision to make."
It was the decision hanging over most of the afternoon. How exactly would we get home? Dad had a driver's license (but mom did not) and we did have the old van for transporting mom's works to exhibitions. It ran but only had the driver's seat and there was a small hole towards the back where mom's flaming, performance art of "horrible fonts" ignited prematurely. Allison apparently took the city bus a few miles from her house to get to the mall. And then there was the option I could just drive us all home as carefully as possible and hope my shock-pink hair wouldn't prompt the police to pull me over.
Officially, the licenses of the recently-animated fell within laws describing "contingent transitional circumstances of identity", becoming an issue of official bureaucracy. Still, I could run into a cop having a bad day.
I clenched my hair in my hands. I still really wished I could stow it somewhere. There was too much of it. I tossed it aside, which only put a lot down my front. I sighed. Candace wiggled her phone.
Allison returned with news that she'd gotten grudging permission for a sleepover, mainly because her parents didn't know anything about our parents. For the issue of the drive home, I really didn't have any ideal choices. So, I just resolved, "I'll drive us home but I need to hide my hair."
Candace actually found a nice, dark hat which hid enough of my hair on the top and, for the spill-over, she put one of her cardigans she'd bought over my shoulders. There was a flash of pink but it looked more like I had a weird, pink scarf peeking out. I still looked like an animated girl but one not quite so boldly colored.
I wore the outfit back through the mall to where we were parked. The crowd had grown from earlier with a few more animated people. I noticed a sisterly-looking pair with classical blond curls that resembled a museum painting from the back.
Fortunately, I wasn't as singled out by the crowds. However, we were the only animated group of more than two, so that alone brought glances. My arms were so tired when we made it to the car. I managed to arrange all of Candace's purchases in the back. Allison's buys took up a lesser portion and mine took up the least.
Allison and Candace hung out in the back seat and looked at little things on their phones as I settled in and started up the car. I took the roads around the mall slowly. Too slowly, really. I got passed with a honk by an impatient driver.
The main roads were busier than earlier but not as bad as a weekday. I signaled patiently and looked warily for the tell-tale grayish-green Crown Victoria shapes of the county cops. Seeing none, I merged onto the road.
I spent several uneventful minutes that way before I got a quick scare of a car that looked similar to a cop pass on my left. I took the shortest route even though it was the busiest.
It looked like I wouldn't even see a cop. Then, I stopped at a residential sign near the house and checked to my right. A cop stopped right next to me. The window on the driver's side rolled down and a head with bright blue hair and brilliant ruby eyes peered out at me. His head was topped by a pair of velvety cat ears. They were just cosmetic but I knew from what I'd read they were physically attached to his head.
The officer was in his full, brilliant-green uniform. He looked at me like a stern, pretty boy out of an anime. I tried a faint smile and turned my attention back to the road. I checked the intersection and glanced back.
The cop receded into his window, the glass went up, and he made a right. With relief, I drove the rest of the way home and finally settled back into the seat when I set the parking brake.
Candace, who had been quiet aside from a few whispers with Allison about her phone, bolted out of her seat, retrieved all the bags, and nearly grabbed me by the scruff of the neck as one more thing to haul inside.
She nudged me on my toes and propelled me through the front door. She didn't stop until I stood in the living room. Only mom was present, with a sketchbook in her hands. She slowly looked up with those big, green eyes. I offered a faint wave, took a deep breath, and said, "Hi, mom."
Dad joined a moment later and sat down on the couch beside her. I added, simply, "Hi, dad."
Perhaps not the most uncomfortable moment of my life (I had plenty I could choose from) but I still wanted to escape the room. Candace stepped to my side and put an arm on my shoulder before proclaiming, "This is my big/little/ brother/sister Kenny!"
And that was enough to break the tension. Mom went first. Her eyes widened even more. She murmured something like, "I had no idea". There were fast words about what Candace had said over the phone exchanged between mom and dad. Dad eyed me curiously. I worried I might see a knife-feeling of betrayal in his gaze but dad had never been a manly man and that had especially been so after he'd been animated.
He was the first to start crying and leaped at me with a big hug. Mom followed swiftly after. Candace made sure a bewildered Allison was part of the group hug too.
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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.