Corey had never experienced the phrase butterflies in his stomach like he did on Friday evening. Butterflies didn't even seem like the right term for the acrobatics his guts were performing. Bees sounded right; or maybe hornets. Angry hornets, buzzing around his innards in anticipation.
What had started out as probably the worst week of his life had turned around Wednesday night when he and his friends had all met for dinner.
'They're never gonna forgive me,' Corey's mind groaned as he and his cousin walked into the Lion's Den. Skye had texted ahead to confirm that Lucilla and Rachel had already met up with Jack, and that the three of them were waiting for the cousins at their usual table.
"Of course they well," she assured him.
'I wouldn't forgive me,' the boy quipped petulantly.
His cousin shook her head, smiling wryly as she followed him up the escalator. "That's because you love to torture yourself. They're not gonna be as big of sadists as you are."
Corey sighed, already preparing himself for the worst. Every muscle in his body tightened as they reached the top and headed for their usual table, not even bothering to get anything to eat. His turbulent stomach wouldn't welcome food at the moment.
Jack, Rachel, and Lucilla were already seated there, each of them picking unenthusiastically at their food. Rachel had changed into a pair of dark jean shorts and a black tank top while Lucilla wore a sleeveless and ruffled light pink top over khaki capris. The mood about the table seemed as somber as it had been for the last few days, making the bees churn violently as he approached.
Sensing her cousin's resolve to apologize wavering, Skye decided to go ahead of him and break the ice. "Hey guys!" she greeted them cheerfully, stepping in front of Corey by the table.
"Hi, Skye," Lucilla returned warmly.
"How was your appointment, Rachel?"
The younger girl looked up at her with wide emotional eyes and a weak half smile as she let the entirety of her meeting with Dr. Taylor – the parts that she remembered, anyway – play back for the telepath.
"Oh…" was all Skye could to think to say.
Rachel shrugged silently, pushing her spaghetti listlessly around her plate.
"You seem in better spirits," Jack noted, looking up from his 3DS. His eyes shifted between the girl and her cousin, sensing that something had changed.
"I am," Skye declared. "Corey has something to say, and I think it'll put us all in better spirits."
The seated teens looked expectantly at the boy as his cousin stepped aside. He opened his mouth but having three sets of eyes on him made him even more nervous, the words catching in his throat.
'Just do it already,' Skye mentally willed him, wondering if he heard her at all like he had on Saturday.
Summoning the full force of his nerves, Corey took a deep breath and threw himself forward in a rigid, Japanese-style bow. "I'm sorry for the way I acted!" he said too loudly, drawing looks from the surrounding tables.
Skye face-palmed from embarrassment and Jack dropped his head to the table while Rachel and Lucilla stared with wide, incredulous eyes.
"This isn't an anime!" his cousin scolded him, pulling him upright by the collar. "Do it right, idiot!"
Corey cringed at her scolding but did as he was told. He cleared his throat and took a calming breath, then looked at his friends with as sincere of an expression as he could muster. "What I meant to say was, I'm sorry for the way I've been acting."
He looked specifically at Rachel, kneeling down next to her chair. "Rachel, I'm so sorry for what I said. I had no idea about… um, your talent and your… family." He waited, gauging whether his apology was upsetting her, and was relieved when the girl's incredulity changed to a little smile.
"It's okay, Corey," she told him, even if she couldn't quite meet his eye. "You didn't know about any of that."
"I'm still really sorry," he pressed on, putting his hand on her shoulder. "I never would've said anything like that if…" He trailed off, but the younger girl understood.
She put her little hand on top of his and, for a moment, met his gaze. "I understand. Really, it's all right."
Corey smiled softly in relief. Rachel was the one he'd hurt the most; having her forgiveness made him feel worlds better. He squeezed her hand holding his once, then rose back to his feet and looked over at Jack. "Jack, bro, I'm really sorry for blaming you and Skye like I did. That was a dick move."
"Yeah, it was," the nephilim agreed hardly before softening his voice and his expression. "But, I guess you were at least a little justified."
"It's no excuse," Corey told him. "I really am sorry."
"I know you are, dude; I can read your mind. And you can relax; I forgive you." The emotional atmosphere was making him uncomfortable.
Feeling like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, Corey breathed freely at last. "Thanks, you guys. I'll try not to be such a drama queen in the future."
"Hey, where's my apology?" Lucilla demanded indignantly.
"But, I didn't even do anything to you," Corey said innocently.
"No, but I had to put up with all of the tension between us that you were causing. I deserve some sort of compensation."
Corey rubbed the back of his neck uncertainly. "I guess that's fair. I'm sorry Lucilla, for the way I've been acting."
"No, too late now," she said, feigning annoyance. "I had to ask for it, so now I need more. Go buy me a sundae."
"For what?" Corey demanded while the others snickered.
"Just do it," Skye told him as she pulled him toward the food vendors. "We'll be right back, guys." She waited until they were out of earshot of the table before telling her cousin, "See, that wasn't so bad. I told you they'd forgive you."
"Yeah, I guess so," he replied, relief still coursing through him.
With the roads between the five friends mended, things were looking up. They had hung out in the cousins' room the rest of Wednesday night, catching up on anything they'd missed.
Rachel and Lucilla told them all about the younger girl's meeting with the school psychiatrist. Jack, Corey, and Skye had all been shocked to hear that she'd lost it again and threatened the doctor, but they weren't going to let that come between them. After just bridging the rift in their friendship, Corey especially wasn't going to let anything else get between them. They'd all agreed that they'd do whatever it took to help Rachel learn to control first her talent, and then the outbursts associated with it.
After that, Thursday had passed by uneventfully, and so had classes the day after. It wasn't until the end of class on Friday that the swarm of bees had been awoken in Corey's stomach.
The bell had just rung and he was packing his things when his LAD had vibrated. An icon at the top of the screen indicated that he'd received a message. He and his friends had started using the LAD's Messenger app occasionally in the evenings or on Mythical Study days when they were spread out, but Friday was a Human Studies day; Jack Skye, and Lucilla were in class with him, and they'd be meeting Rachel a few minutes later.
Curious, he swiped down from the top of the screen, dropping down his list of notifications and checked the sender's name: spcharleston.
His eyes widened and his pulse kicked up a beat. Quickly, he opened the app and read the message.
spcharleston: [Hey, Ayers, I'll be free tonight. How about meeting up so you can show me your talent?]
His heart hammered in his chest. He'd been looking forward to the promised meeting with the girl in his Physics class, but he hadn't thought it would come so quickly. With hands that slightly trembled, Corey had quickly typed his response, misspelling several words. Autocorrect didn't help.
csayers: [Sue. What tin and plate?]
csayers: [Time and place*]
spcharleston: [Type much, dude?]
spcharleston: [How about the Prowling Grounds field at 8?]
csayers: [Sounds good. See you then]
spcharleston: [Awesome! It had better be worth it ;)]
"Who are you talking to?" Jack had asking, coming up behind him.
Corey'd jumped, fumbling his LAD. "No one. A friend back home," he'd lied quickly, doing his best to stash the conversation away in his mind before the perspicacious nephilim heard it.
Jack had frowned at him, obviously sensing something off, but had let it go. "Let's go then; the girls are waiting."
The rest of the afternoon had been rough. He'd had to be careful not to let his mind wander, lest one of the mind readers pick up on anything. Then there'd been the awkward attempt at getting away from the others after dinner. Even though Friday night was still a school night for them, the five had planned at the beginning of the year to spend every one together; to watch a movie, play video games, get caught up on studying, wherever the night took them. Thinking of a convincing lie to get out of it and then delivering that lie in a convincing way to two telepaths had been one of the hardest things Corey had ever tried to figure out. Luckily, there was one easy out he could always rely on.
"Ew, fine, we'll go Rachel and Lucilla's room," Skye had told him, a little bit flustered, as they'd all left the Lion's Den after dinner. "Come meet up with us when you're done. And clean up better this time!"
'When in doubt, rub one out,' Corey thought with a snicker, knowing his cousin would come up with a much better lie for him.
With his friends taken care of, Corey had started back toward the Lion Dorm, only to detour once his friends were out of sight and head for the Prowling Grounds. It was seven-thirty-eight, according to his LAD; the sky had barely begun to darken, but the air was still hot and sticky.
Most of the students were still packed into Lion's Den enjoying their dinner, but others were milling about the courtyard. The fountain in the center was a Pokémon Go gym they'd found out, and several of the campus's buildings were PokéStops, bringing out the trainers in full force. Others were out enjoying the fresh air, or reading under the planted trees. No matter where one went on the campus, there was never a quiet spot. He wondered if anyone else would be on the field with them. He'd spent the last several hours thinking they'd be alone, but what if that wasn't the case?
"It's not like it's a date or anything,' he told himself, shaking his head. Despite thinking that, he had somewhat dressed up a bit for the meeting. He wore a pair of khaki zip-off cargo pants that had been kept clean and untouched in his suitcase with a plain black tee shirt over a short-sleeved plaid white button-up. He'd even taken extra time after his shower to make sure the spikes of his sandy hair were just right; neat, but not overly done.
'It's not a date,' he repeated as he started down the row of columns that led to the gymnasium. It wasn't until the building was upon him that he realized he wasn't sure where to go. He'd only been there once; about a week before, when things had gone wrong. They'd gone in through the locker rooms then, but would those be open?
Corey looked to his right, where the voice had come from, and saw a familiar face waving at him. "Hey, Nevin."
Corey and hadn't seen much of Nevin since registration day. He'd ended up in class 11-D, though Jack and Skye had Psychology with him on Mythical Studies days. They sometimes saw him in the hallway between classes, but usually didn't have time to stop and chat. Nevin seemed to have established his own circle of friends from his class, so neither of them had gone out of their way to seek the other out. It was the type of friendship Corey was used to having. To him, keeping people at a superficial distance was more natural than the closer bond he shared with Jack and the others.
The blond boy walked up to Corey, smiling warmly. He was dressed in jeans and a beige polo shirt, and had a black gym bag slung over his shoulder. "Going for a workout before dinner?"
"I already ate," Corey replied.
Nevin quirked his brow. "It's not good to eat before a workout. Then again, you're not dressed for one either."
"It wasn't really the plan."
"What are you doing here then?" He looked around curiously. "And where's the rest of the crew? It's rare to see one of you guys alone."
"I'm meeting them later," Corey explained. He remembered that Nevin would be able to tell if he was lying, so he needed to be careful of what he said. "Right now I'm meeting a… friend," he wasn't sure if that was the proper word to use, "from my Physics class. So, we're allowed to use the gym whenever?"
"Well, yeah. You didn't know?" Nevin asked, surprised. "It was in the student handbook."
Corey blinked with an, "Oh," admission, making Nevin sigh.
"Reading that thing was required, you know."
"Right, I mean… I skimmed it," the spiky-hair boy offered, earning another sigh.
"We can use the Prowling Grounds facilities in the evening," Nevin elaborated for him. "The weight room and cardio room are open, they get out the basketballs, volleyballs, and such, and the fields are wide open." He glanced around, making sure no one was too close to hear, and then leaned into Corey a bit more. "There's an area of the fields hidden just behind the tree line where a lot of Black Class kids go to practice their talents."
"We can use our talents out here?" Corey suddenly exclaimed, startling Nevin.
"SHH!" Nevin hastily said. "There might be White Class kids around."
Corey clamped his hands over his mouth. "Right, sorry." With everything going on between him and his friends, Corey had completely forgotten about the White Class students – children with confirmed talents, but who were not aware of them. "So, how do I get over to the field, anyway? Can I go through the locker room like during class?"
"Yeah, and then head to your left toward the trees to find the talent clearing. If you need gym clothes, you can get them from your assigned locker too."
"Yup. Well, I'd better get to the Den before dinner closes. It was good seeing you."
"You too. Hook up with us some time," Corey invited, bumping fists with the boy.
Nevin waved as he started toward the Lion's Den again while Corey continued toward the gym. Knowing where to go made him feel a little better. He went through the boy's locker room entrance like he had a week ago and navigated his way through to the other side.
"It's so different when it's not filled to the brim with people," he noted as he went. He wasn't expecting to do much physically, so he didn't bother stopping at his locker and moved straight out to the field. There weren't too many students in the main clearing. A few were jogging, some playing Frisbee golf or catch with a football or baseball.
Following Nevin's directions, he turned to his left and walked the fair distance toward the trees. The natural pillars stood thick, packed closely together into a sylvan wall. It took Corey a minute to find where they parted, revealing a path opening so narrow that he probably wouldn't have ever found it if he hadn't been looking for it.
The path was peaceful enough, and what he found at the end of it was an unexpected sight to behold. Compared to the sparse gathering in the large clearing, the much smaller one seemed packed with a spread of dozens of students. Some of them were in groups and others were alone, but they all had one thing in common: every single one of them was glowing.
"Whoa," was all he could say as his eyes roved over the field.
Not only were all of the students glowing in different hues, a lot of them were doing things Corey had only ever seen in movies, TV, anime, and manga. There was a boy crackling with what looked like electrical energy, a girl running around at impossible speeds, three students passing balls of glowing energy between one another. One boy was floating and another kept fading in and out of sight. All over was a display of talents that had Corey stunned in awe.
Corey turned to the voice and his heart skipped another beat. Sierra was approaching him from the path of trees, dressed in the institute-issued gym clothes. The sleeves of her shirt had been rolled up to the shoulders, leaving her arms completely bare, and she'd tied the hem of her shirt behind her back, exposing her mid-rift. It looked good on her.
"H-hey, S-sierra," Corey stuttered, cheeks flushing, doing his best not to stare.
The dark skinned girl looked him over incredulously as she arrived at his side. "You're wearing that to work out?"
"Work out? I thought I was just going to show you my talent."
"Well, yeah, but I figured if you were coming a gym, you'd at least dress the part."
"Should I go change?" he offered, starting to feel a little self-conscious.
The girl shrugged. "Up to you."
Corey thought for moment. "How about this?" He took off his white button-up and then knelt down to unzip the lower parts of his pant legs, turning them into shorts. "How's this?" he asked as he stood back up, tossing his clothes aside.
"I didn't know anyone still wore zip-offs," Sierra told him with an amused smile, deepening his blush. She ignored his diffidence, moving right on to the reason they'd met up. "All right, let's see it already. Show me your talent."
Swallowing his wounded pride, Corey nodded and began to focus. He might've made the wrong clothing choice for their meeting, but when it came to his talent, his confidence was unshakeable. He concentrated on his hand, gathering the gray pixels of light there to form his trusty bat. "Ta da!" he announced with a showy swing. "Pretty nifty, huh?"
To his surprise, Sierra looked genuinely impressed. "You're a materializer."
Corey blinked in confusion. "A what, now?"
"A materializer," the girl repeated, leaning in for a closer look at the bat. "You can solidify your prana into solid objects, right?"
"Oh, yeah. I didn't know there was a name for it."
"It even feels like a metal bat. Why didn't you just show me in class, though?"
"I couldn't whip out a bat in the classroom," he said defensively.
"No, but you could've made something smaller."
Corey opened his mouth and paused. "Oh, I hadn't thought of that. I pretty much only ever make the bat."
"Really, that's all?" she asked, her tone almost accusatory. "That's a waste."
"Hey, I only found out I could make other stuff a few months ago. The bat was the first thing I ever made, and for a long time I thought that was all I could do."
"Oh? What else have you made?"
A puckish spark twinkled in her minty eye. "Really, now? Show me that. I'll hold your bat."
"No can do." He let go of the bat and it vanished instantly. "Anything I make disappears as soon as I let go of it."
"Hm… your talent must be too inchoate to maintain stuff you're not touching. Well, whatever, let's see some fire."
Corey nodded, but he was a little hesitant. He hadn't made fire since the night in the abandoned warehouse when he fought Tommy. They'd all gotten in a lot of trouble for it. Tommy had been sent to some juvie for talents; he and Skye probably would've joined him if not for the institute stepping in. The memory left a bit of a stigma on the idea of making fire.
"Well?" Sierra prompted impatiently.
"Sorry." Looking around the clearing made him feel better. So many other students were performing extravagant, potentially dangers feats; why shouldn't he?
He took a deep breath and concentrated on his hand again. The gray pixels of light began to sparkle again, their colors shifting between hues of red, gold, and orange. A second later he heard the familiar fwoosh of flames and the pixel-sparks ignited into an 8-bit fireball in his palm.
Sierra snorted before bursting out in laughter. "Is 8-bit stuff all you can make?"
Corey felt his blush returning and pouted. "So? Is that wrong?"
"I've just never seen anything like it," the girl replied, getting her laughter under control. "I wonder why, though. Hey, lemme see your aura."
Corey blinked in confusion. "My what?"
"Your aura; like them over there." She pointed to a boy and girl across the field, who were putting on a show that made Corey's jaw drop with envy.
They appeared to be sparring, throwing punches and kicks at one another, dancing across one end of the field. That alone would've been impressive enough, but what made it such a spectacle was the size, luminosity, and vigor of their glow. Just like a scene out of DBZ or BLEACH, the girl was surrounded by a flaring blue light, while the boy gave off a subtler but still noticeable vermillion glow. The grass around their feet stirred with their every step and their clothes seemed to be caught in the faint upward draft that rippled in time with the motions of their energy.
"That's… the coolest thing I've ever seen," Corey breathed, completely overcome by awe.
"Oh?" Sierra asked, quirking one brow and holding right arm akimbo. "Cooler than this?" Still holding her casual pose, a foggy green-white light suddenly burst around her, rushing from her feet upward in rapid but gentle waves that ruffled her hair, the light dancing off of the golden locks and glinting on her multiple piercings.
Corey's face warmed and ever part of him tensed. The pixelated fireball in his hand flared and grew without him realizing. It was the most beautiful sight he had seen in his entire life and it brought to his mind a revision of the thought he'd had the first day he'd met the girl.
'She's not just cute… she's super cute!'
Sierra stared at him impatiently from behind her hazy light. "Well, c'mon."
Corey shook off his stupor and did his best to maintain an even tone. "I don't think I can do that."
"Yes, you can." She wasn't suggesting it; she told him.
"Am I supposed to be able to? Can all talents?"
"Well, not all of them, but with a talent like yours, you definitely can." Her aura went out with a little pop, letting her hair fall back into place. "I figured an otaku like you would've figured out how."
"Well, it's easy. Just focus on pushing your energy outward. Since your talent already involves focusing your energy to create an object, it should be a breeze. Try it."
"Um… okay, I'll try." He closed his hand around his fireball, popping it into pixels, and then closed his eyes to focus. He thought about all the times he'd seen characters doing the same thing. Gohan, Ichigo, Naruto… he knew the power was inside of him, he just had to pull it to the surface like they did. He even planted his feet shoulder-width apart and balled his fists at his side.
Thinking about it that way made it quite easy. He thought that he'd have to concentrate long and hard before he could even find it, but it was right inside him, just under the surface. Maybe she was right about his talent making it easier.
Grabbing tightly onto that power in his mind, Corey yanked it with all his might to the surface. "Hiyah!" he shouted without thinking.
"Whoa, shit!" Sierra shouted.
A number of other shouts erupted around him, startling Corey's eyes open. He looked around alertly and saw a lot of people on the ground, Sierra included. All of them were staring – some of them glaring – at him. Even the sparring two had stopped and dropped, looking at Corey in confusion.
"Uh… what I do?" he asked innocently.
"You about took us all out," Sierra replied as she got back up, brushing grass from her clothes. "Geez, I hope the White Class kids didn't notice that. Sorry, everyone," she called out to the people who were looking at the two of them. "Got a newbie over here. What was that?" The question was directed back at Corey.
"What was what? What'd I do?"
"You launched a wave of prana out from your body."
"I just did what you said, though; I pushed my energy outward."
"Don't push that hard, idiot. You're just pulling it to the surface." She thought for a moment if there was a better way to describe it. "Look, think of it like flexing your muscles. You're just showing off. Try again." She took a step back as she said it.
Corey rolled his eyes at her before closing them again and repeating what he'd done before. He breathed deeply, slowly, trying to draw it out slowly.
'Like flexing my muscles.' Without rushing, he could feel the power flowing through him as he did. It was like drinking a warm drink on a cold day. It started in his chest, near his heart, and spread outward down his torso, through his arms and legs, up into his scalp, all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes. Everything his energy touched felt like it was tingling.
His body trembled with it. He held out as long as he could, waiting until the power had filled every part of him, and when he thought that he was full he flexed his muscles and pushed.
"Nice!" he heard Sierra say.
Eagerly, he opened his eyes and looked down at his hands. He'd done it. Waves of gray light were moving all over his body, from his feet up to his hair. He could feel the energy moving both in him and around him, and it was nothing like he'd ever felt before. He felt stronger than he'd ever felt. He saw clearer than he'd ever seen. He heard sharper than he'd ever heard. He felt invigorated, aware, renascent; like he was seeing and feeling and experiencing the world him for the first time.
"This is… incredible," he breathed. He looked up at Sierra and gawped in time for her to snap a picture with her phone. "Hey, what was that for?"
"So you can see this," she told him, trying to stifle her laughter. She walked forward and turned the phone around to reveal the photo she'd taken. It was him, gawping at the camera while surrounded by an aura of pixelated gray flares.
"Even my aura's 8-bit?" he exclaimed in defeat, something he immediately regretted. A wave of dizziness washing over him, making him stumble and fell on his butt. The gray aura dissipated as soon as he hit the ground. "Whoa, dizzy."
"Yeah, it can be pretty taxing at first." The girl extended her tattooed hand and pulled him back to his feet. "I guess the pixilation is just the form your prana takes. I've never seen one like it before."
"Is that bad?"
Sierra shrugged. "It doesn't mean anything. The form of your prana says more about your personality than it does about your power. So, how do you feel?"
"Exhausted," Corey breathed, doubling over with his hands on his knees. In total contrast to how he'd felt a moment before, his entire body felt like a lead weight; like he'd just done a five mile jog while curling twenty pound dumbbells. He wasn't sure if he could even move.
"Yeah, that'll happen. You just exposed your muscles to a hefty dose of prana for the first time. You're gonna feel that in gym class tomorrow," she laughed.
"Nooooo," was Corey's agonized groan.
"Guess you're done for the night," Sierra went on, ignoring his pain again. She was pulling an armband with a black iPod in it from her pocket and strapping it around her bicep. "You should probably get to bed."
"Yeah; bed sounds good." There was no argument from the weakened boy. "What are you doing? Going for a run?"
"Yeah; I jog around campus every night," she said, putting the ear buds in. "I thought maybe we could run together, but I guess not."
Crestfallen, Corey put everything he had into standing upright. Doing so left him lightheaded. "Ugh… yeah, I guess not. Sorry about that."
Sierra shrugged, stretching her shoulders, arms and legs. "I'm the one who wanted to see your aura, so no big. Maybe next time."
The thought of next time should've left Corey elated, but the clear indifference in her voice only deepened his disappointment. He'd hoped that their meet-up would last longer than simply showing her his talent, but he'd never thought to hope she'd want to do something like go for a run with him. Not that going for a run was a thing Corey did for fun, but if he were running with Sierra, it might not be so bad. If only he'd known ahead of time.
"Thanks for showing me your talent, though. It was pretty cool."
Corey looked away as she finished her stretching, hoping she didn't notice that her comment had made him blush.
"Guess I'll see you in gym tomorrow," she said as she finished and started to jog away. "Later, Ayers."
"Yeah, see ya," he replied, waving after her with the little strength he could muster. He waited until she was out of sight before letting out a sigh of despondent defeat. "Oh well; it's only the second week of school." It seemed a little hard to believe. A lot had happened in just two weeks. He wondered what the rest of the year was going to be like.
A tone from his pocket alerted him of a text, which ended up being from his cousin.
Ten-Ten: [Hey, are you coming over, or what? (*Λ´*)｣]
He groaned again. As much as he wanted to see his friends, he just didn't have the energy. He wasn't even certain he could make it back to his room, let alone be alert enough to guard his thoughts around the two psychics.
With a heavy heart, he typed out a quick reply.
Core-sama: [I'm actually pretty beat. Might just crash z..z]
Ten-Ten: [Oh, no! (╬ಠ益ಠ)]
Ten-Ten: [You've been avoiding everyone all week. (๑•̀ㅂ•́)و]
Ten-Ten: [Either get your butt over here, or we're bringing the party to you, pants or no pants. ( •̀ω•́ )σ]
Core-sama: [Fiiiiiiiine. I'll be there in a little bit x_x]
Ten-Ten: [Bring drinks! (۶•̀ᴗ•́)۶✧]
He moaned in pain, knowing there was no way she was going to let him off the hook. Slowly gathering his discarded clothes, he began trudging his way back up the narrow path toward the school while conjuring the memory of some of his favorite porn videos as he went to use as a front for what he'd been up to.