The sun was already dropping behind the treeline that separated the park from the school grounds. Afternoon chill made me jitter a bit, but I ignored it. Nothing could be more important than how close Constance sat next to me. I could feel the heat off of her as she leaned towards me while clutching her stomach and laughing a cute, nasally laugh.
"When Stacy tapped my shoulder," Constance gasped, "she tried to, like, punch some code into me with the back of her pen to tell me what answer she wanted. She's ridiculous!" Constance snorted. She brought her hands over her mouth with wide eyes aimed at me and we continued to laugh even as her cheeks turned red. I wished she wouldn't cover up that beautiful, brace-faced smile for any reason, even laughing. If only she thought the same about me, but even my strongest gestures like buying her an 8-bit bouquet and chocolate covered strawberries on her birthday didn't make her understand.
God knew I couldn't just tell her though! Obviously she didn't want that kind of attention from the biggest loser in the whole high school. Straight A's don't get the babes. My mom tried to tell me I'd grow out of this phase, but she didn't understand. She was one of the babes!
I felt my eyes sting as tears gathered, but were trapped in my squeezed eyelids. When I could finally breathe again, I turned to Constance. Her face was flushed, but her breathing was controlled now. How long had I been laughing so loudly? I could hear my echo bouncing across the lake and the forests surrounding the badminton field nearby.
"Peter," she said.
Her voice sounded hollow. Her deep laugh lines flattened into something like an eerie smirk, but I couldn't say I didn't enjoy the attention.
"Yeah?" I said to her, suddenly conscious of how long my arms were as I uncrossed them and placed them beside me on the bench. Her hand found its way dangerously close to mine. She couldn't know what I had felt all of these years so suddenly, but the way her honey eyes grabbed mine, I think I forgot the definition of platonic.
Constance took deep breaths that made her shirt sway over her chest. I took a heavy gulp, trying to drag my eyes back to hers.
"We've been friends for a long time and I just can't believe I-oh gosh, this is embarrassing. Um, I just think you've been the best friend anyone could ask for, you know? Who else pays for someone's entry into the academic decathlon?"
Me. Stupid me.
I didn't move as she scooted closer. I couldn't move even if I wanted to.
"Yeah," I heard myself say.
A confidence oozed through my system that I had been feeling all day. It was what let me ask a group of cheerleaders to step aside so I could retrieve my fallen pen cap and accept their clique's laughter. It was the confidence that said spiking my hair right before first period was definitely the smart thing to do and didn't look stupid at all.
"I think-I want you to-or I want to-"
Before I could speak, Constance pounced into my lap and pressed her lips to mine. I felt her hands reach around my neck and her fingers curl through my hair that once sat more perfectly than it ever had before. I gasped a moment as her braces nicked my bottom lip, but I wanted more. She moved like a wild animal on top of me. For a moment I let myself get lost as all of my fantasies came true in one instant.
Then I realized the way Constance shook and gasped on top of me was totally not the Constance I had known and loved for years. This was some feral creature.
I held her back with ease, an unexpected feat for my scrawny arms against her curvy body. Then I saw a layer of muscle pressed into the cotton of my shirt sleeve that wasn't there yesterday.
"Connie, what's wrong?" I said, my own chest still heaving. I tasted the metallic tang of blood on the corner of my lips.
"Nothing!" Constance said, fighting against my grip. I knew there would be red marks under her sleeves the way she began to thrash. "Just let me be with you! I've always loved you! I'll never find anyone else!"
"Connie, quit it!" I didn't mean to shove her as hard as I did, but I watched her tumble to the dirt. Her skirt was hiked up past her knees and a few stray hairs escaped their bobby pins.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Peter, no. Don't be sorry. Just tell me what I did wrong!"
She crawled towards me. The dirt smashed into the fibers of her uniform skirt and caked against her hands. This once proud figure of geekiness was now just like the other girls who slobbered over some hotshot jock. And I was the hotshot!
I backed away as Connie approached like a homing missile. This was no longer my friend.
As she threw her arms out again, I slung my backpack over my shoulder and bolted down the driveway. Soon I was around the baseball field and basketball court and down a small side road leading away from the park. By the time my pinching sides forced me to stop my full sprint I was only a few blocks from home, three miles from the school.
When I reached the front door of our McMansion, I was covered in a cold sweat. My heart was racing and panic clung to my muscles. I fumbled for the keys in my pocket and I watched my hand shake as I stabbed a circle around the keyhole before it finally sunk in.
I slammed the door shut behind me and leaned against it. I couldn't hear over the blood pounding in my ears. The chandelier in the foyer was too bright. The portraits staring back at me from the living room as I ran that way looked like they were laughing. I collapsed face first into the sofa cushions only to shout as something left my head stinging. My forehead slammed into a hardcover book wedged between the cushions.
It was a King James bible, but nobody in my house was religious. I always imagined my mom and older siblings worshiped the mirror. Maybe it was my dad's, the only person I could even remotely relate to. I clearly got his genes.
I turned the cover pages and then felt resistance as if the rest were glued shut. I frowned and pried the well-stuck pages apart. As the glue pulled away in stringy bits, it revealed a square cutout in the pages where another booklet and a small mirror sat.
Of course I had to look.
The booklet was filled with pictures and descriptions of what looked like my super model family tree on my mom's side. I looked at their names, all bland compared to their faces like their parents hoped their model babies might blend in more that way. Then I took the mirror and looked at myself. My breath caught in my throat.
When did I get what stupid television shows described as a chiseled jaw? And my skin! It had a perfect, matte look without a zit to be found. I patted myself down. My ribs were less prominent and my stomach waved with pronounced muscle. I couldn't tear off this weird new body the way I could throw aside the mirror.
I kept reading pages in the notebook. Quips and quotes about pride and family were scribbled beneath each picture. Then the pages were only text. They were different accounts of when each member felt like they were part of this family. It was all around my age, about fifteen years old. It all involved a sudden confidence and a sudden beauty. Friends became desperate to be lovers and enemies didn't exist. At least I could cross bullies off my list of fears.
As I read further and further down the tree, I saw accounts from the names I'd never heard of. They talked about weird places and descriptions I couldn't place on a map. Skies in their anecdotes were green haze and seas were a prism of sloshing light against charcoal beaches. There weren't cities, only luxury mansions on acres of piney white grass. The people who lived there weren't people like me, or like I thought I was. These were perfect creatures that were easily bored with whatever and whomever they interacted with once they became of age and had their growth spurt.
Now some of the later passages made sense about the Withering. Some called it the Thinning. Over time, these people wouldn't mate because no one seemed good enough. Then evolution must have taken hold because they couldn't mate. It sounded like their way of saying no one could "get it up". I suddenly felt better about my accidental display in gym class a few months ago only because I could do it if I wanted to. The thought kept me sane.
I skimmed over the stories around my great great grandparents' time again. When they talked about finding new lands, I knew they meant new worlds and my heart started to race again. They talked about conquering the people in these lands, but there wasn't any malice in the words. It sounded more like some kinky fantasy. Overwhelm their senses, great great great uncle Billy said. Fawn over and fondle, said my great-a-few-time-back aunt Mary.
We've found a people who can't resist us, said my mother at my age. I was a little worried at first of the consequences of my actions...and my genes, but I must admit having that attention was nice. If this is the truth about who I really am and where I really came from, why should I be ashamed of myself? I only wish mom told me sooner.
My stomach dropped as I thought back to Constance and the park bench. I could've done whatever I wanted to her. She literally threw herself at me-not even figuratively! I was suddenly one of the wanted people. It was everything to me. But I hated myself for how my body reacted to the thoughts of what more could have happened. Did she really like me? Did it matter?
How could I ever know now if someone actually cared about me?
Why does that matter? I could have any chick I want!
Life isn't just about sticking your thing into a thing!
But isn't this the prime of my life or whatever? I can worry about crap like settling down later! It's not my fault I went from geek to jock in a day! I'm living the dream!
But I can't do that to Connie!
So do it to someone else!
I sighed. No one else would care about things like girls actually liking them. There weren't enough grains of sand in the world to count the scores of the football players. The kids at school worshiped them. It would be nice to be worshiped.
But there could be other ways. I can't control what these...genes do to people around me, but I can control what I say and do. Maybe they'll listen. No one else threw themselves at me like Constance did. Maybe that meant…
I dropped the booklet and ran back to the front door. I heard my mother call out to me, but I ignored her and her beauty. I was glad it didn't affect me like humans were affected. I wasn't sure what I would say to her or to Constance or to anyone, but confidence coursed through my veins and whatever I said, I was sure I would be heard this time.