The Knights of Sheba

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Summary

In ages past, the legends say that an ancient knighthood fought and sealed away a demonic threat to the world. Centuries later, the threat returns, and a sixteen-year-old girl named Geneva Oaks is caught at the center of it. Donning a magical armor from another world, she struggles to maintain normalcy as the world around her grows increasingly fantastic. High School. Slash. Basically, my version of Power Rangers..

Genre:
Fantasy / Action
Author:
RedWhaleStories
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
37
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Episode One: "A New Day" A.1

The Knights of Sheba

Some people say that women don’t sweat but glisten. These people have never met Geneva Oaks, sixteen-year-old, ninth grade student at Ashview High. In fact, as she sits outside, under the school awning, in the muggy Midwestern heat, she finds herself doing little else but sweating.

That is how myths are, though. They start as something small, with a grain of truth at their core, and then spiral out of control. Soon, they become so big and biased that they no longer resemble the nugget they once were. But this is not a myth. It is a story, and it starts here, near the end of summer, in the heat and humidity, and with a sweaty girl waiting for a ride.

Summer school is officially over, and in two weeks Geneva will be back, along with the other students, to trudge her way through another year of high school. Those two weeks, though, are hers, and she has plans for them. While waiting, she silently puts a list together, filled with games to play, shows to watch, and a liberal amount of napping in between.

This is all assuming her sister comes to pick her up. She sighs and contemplates two weeks spent waiting and boiling. If she had a wrist watch, she would check her it and grumble. Without one, she is reduced to just grumbling.

The door to the school clicks open, and Geneva looks involuntarily. A blast of cold air hits her in the face, like a nice, cool smack, and she smiles momentarily. A woman steps out into the heat. She is tall, slender, and blonde. Her dress is business-like, and she carries a small briefcase at her side. Her hair is light and kept short, masculine, a sharp contrast to her long, sleek face.

The woman stops and looks at Geneva. Then, she consults her wrist. She is wearing a watch. “You’re here quite late,” she says with an accent that Geneva can’t quite place. It sounds vaguely European, not that Geneva is an expert on such matters.

Geneva nods. “I am.”

The woman gives her a lingering stare, “And you are a student here?”

“I was. Am. I—Summer school. Bad grades. Not very smart, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

The woman hums in response and turns ahead, looking at the empty parking lot. From inside of her pocket she pulls out a set of car keys. “School is out now,” she says. “Did the buses leave without you? Would you like a ride home?”

“What? No! No, thanks, I’m good. Really. Just waiting on my sister to come and pick me up.”

“I see,” the woman says, checking her watch again. “She’s running quite late, then.”

“Yeah, but that’s pretty normal for her. Doesn’t even get her period on time.” Geneva laughs anxiously, looks at the woman’s stoic face, and stops. She hangs her head. “So, yeah, totally inappropriate. Sorry.”

“Yes. Well.”

Geneva keeps her gaze on the ground and waits. When the woman doesn’t move or speak, she feels obligated to say something. Wringing her hands, she says, “So, uh, you a teacher here?”

“Yes. Physical education.” She holds out her hand. “My name is Nina Olivia. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Oh, so you’re the new gym teacher,” Geneva says. She gives a halfhearted shake and is surprised by the vice-like grip of the woman’s hand. Afterward, Nina rubs her hand on her jacket, leaving a damp spot where it touches. Geneva places her wet palms flat against her jeans. “I think I have your class this year.”

“Oh, do you? Well, I hope you’re looking forward to it. I have big plans for you students this year.”

“Oh. Well, forgive me if I don’t cheer.”

A dusty old car swings into the parking lot. It takes a wide path around and stops, rumbling, before the awning. The driver leans over and cranks the passenger window down. Rock music spills out into the otherwise silent lot, and the driver leans back and lifts her sunglasses. “Yo, Genie, get your rear in here. I’m missing my stories.”

Geneva trades a glance between her new teacher and the car. “Ah. That would be my sister.” She stands, hugging her backpack tight to her chest.

Ms. Olivia nods and stares at the car. “Then, I suppose I’ll see you in two weeks, yes?”

“Two weeks,” Geneva says, skipping from the awning and running to the car. She gets inside, and her sister speeds out of the parking lot and down the street. Geneva tosses her book bag into the back before fiddling with her seatbelt. “Really, Bea, do you have to do stuff like that?”

“Aw, what, did I embarrass you in front of your favorite teacher?” Beatrice, one hand on the steering wheel and swerving some, reaches out to pinch her little sister’s cheek. “Does little Genie-weavie worry about her reputation?”

Geneva swats Beatrice’s hand away. “Little Genie-weavie wants you to keep your eyes on the road, woman!”

Beatrice slips her glasses back down before they hit the highway. “You’re no fun when you’re grumpy, you know.” Grabbing the wheel with both hands, she grimaces. “Also, why are my fingers so wet?”

“Because I’m sweating, Bea, because you’re, like, fifteen minutes late. And I waited for you. In the hot sun.”

“You sweat from your cheeks?”

“I sweat from everywhere.”

“That’s pretty weird.”

Geneva glowers. “It’s weird that I sweat?”

“From your cheeks, yeah,” Beatrice says. “I mean, I’ve heard of boob sweat, or arm pits, or under your eyes and stuff, but cheeks? Cheeks isn’t normal.”

Geneva sighs. “Oh, just shut up.”

Beatrice clicks her tongue. “See, grumpy,” she says.

Geneva ignores it. She leans against the car door with her arms crossed and sulks out the window. The scenery passes by in a blur, without meaning or notice. In her head, she is already home playing games, turning in early, and sleeping until noon.

Episode One: A New Day

Ash Valley is a well-to-do suburb of Kansas City. Exclusively for the best-of-the-best, all the movers and shakers make home there, in their gated communities, with their personal gardeners and personal mansions. So, when it is said that Ash View High is a public school, it is misleading, to say the least.

Ash View is, technically, a public school, but it is a public school with the funding of a private school. Settling for nothing but the best in the best of technology and faculty, they have money to spend and more. The students, similarly, are of the highest pedigree that Ash Valley has to offer. They are groomed, manicured, and cultured to the highest degree.

Then there is Geneva. While an Ash View student, Geneva considers herself about as close to affluence as she is to a healthy body-mass index—within sight but never within reach. Instead, she comes from humbler beginnings. Her father is a college dropout working now as a garbage man, and her mother is a community college graduate working, off and on, as a substitute teacher. While not struggling to survive, they live well outside of Ash Valley and its lap of luxury.

So then, the question becomes, how does Geneva fit into the pretty picture that is Ash View High, and the answer is that she doesn’t. Instead, she landed there due to a strange set of circumstances lining up perfectly. Her previous middle school (name omitted to protect the guilty) was closed due to poor test scores and a loss of accreditation, leaving her floating in the education ether. In that time, her mother made a few calls and convinced an old college friend, now turned Ash View superintendent, to take Geneva in.

That is how Geneva came to Ash View two years prior, and why she is failing so spectacularly now. To call Geneva an excellent student would be a lie. Before Ash View, she was exceedingly average, even by public school standards. When given an advanced curriculum designed for advanced students, with nannies and tutors and money for proper supplies, she found herself sinking quickly despite her efforts.

Which is how she lost over a month of her break to summer school. It is also why she is not eager to return. Despite her frustration and fears, however, she has learned one important life lesson. She is sixteen, and as a sixteen-year-old no amount of grumbling on her part will ever convince her mother and father that she is average. Because her parents are supportive and believe, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, that she is capable of great things.

After many wasted hours pleading and begging she gave up, realizing that both were completely insane.

She goes through the motions for them, though, and rewards their obnoxious belief with serious effort. So, on the first day of school she wakes up and prepares for the long day ahead. For her, this is something of a mad scramble around the house searching for something ‘clean’ and slinging her backpack over her shoulder before sprinting out the front door. She is greeted by a bright yellow bus, and a not so bright bus driver who has to wake up extra early and drive ten miles out of the way to pick her up.

They nod curtly to each other as she stumbles onto the bus and finds a seat near the back to collapse in.

The ride to school lasts nearly an hour and includes many stops along the way. By the time they arrive Geneva feels something like a sardine stuffed into a can. She can hardly breathe around all of the people, and the anxious tension of the first day jumps through the seats like an electric current.

The bus rolls to a stop in front of the school and the doors come open. Students pour out, nearly trampling each other in their excitement. Geneva manages to make it out in the middle of the pack and keep some space between herself and her peers. Her previous school had nearly twice the students of Ash View and half the faculty. Time there made her an expert at weaving through crowded halls, and she moves fluidly around people, seeming almost as if she isn’t there at all. She finds her locker, leaves her things, and then slips away to her first hour class.

Summer school, while an awful waste of time in her opinion, did have one benefit. She got to work closely with a student advisor and design a class schedule that suited her perfectly. For her first hour, she managed to snag a spot in history, a subject many student dislike but she has always felt a special connection to. It was the only class she ever gets an A in, even in Ash View.

The classroom is empty when she arrives, and she decides to sit near the back and beside a window. She sets her binder down and then leans on her desk and stares outside, pretending that she is not there. From the window she can see the baseball diamond, and the small forest beyond it. A tree sits in the center, larger than any tree she has ever seen before. Its bark is grey as stone, and it looks like a tower piercing the sky.

She finds herself wondering how deep its roots run.

Lost in her reveries, she doesn’t notice the other students entering, and she doesn’t notice Kit until it is too late. She jumps when she hears someone call her name and twists in her seat to see who it is.

Katherine “Kit” Wright is Geneva’s best friend and, in truth, only friend, and the two couldn’t be more different. Geneva considers herself short, frumpy, and awkward, and Kit is none of those things. Being tall, chesty, and charming, she fits into the Ash View social scene perfectly.

When she sees Geneva, she smiles and waves. “Well, hello there, fancy running into you here.”

“Yeah, big surprise. I think it’s some kind of law or something now-a-days. Truancy or whatever.”

Kit rolls her eyes. “You know what I mean! I didn’t know you had Mr. Oliver’s history class for your first period.”

Geneva shrugs. “Let’s call it serendipity.”

“Call it whatever, I’m glad to have you here.” Kit settles into her seat, pulling out a notebook and a small, sleek pen from her binder. Then, she turns, crossing her long, slender legs, and faces Geneva. “We have so much to catch up on. My summer was amazing, by the way.”

“Here we go,” Geneva says. She leans forward on her binder.

“Oh, don’t be so sour,” Kit says, giving Geneva a gentle nudge. It is enough to nearly knock her from the seat. “Anyway, you know how my family went to Europe for the summer, right?”

“No, actually, I didn’t know that. It does explain why you didn’t respond to any of my e-mails, though.”

Kit, normally always ready with a response, goes quiet. She rummages through her bag for a moment to distract herself, and then says, “Oh, yeah, sorry about that. Guess I should have told you, huh?”

Geneva shrugs.

“Well, anyway, my parents and I went to Europe, and that’s where I got. This! Isn’t it gorgeous?” Kit jams her right hand into Geneva’s face. There, wrapped around her ring finger, is the gaudiest thing Geneva has ever seen. It is large, golden, and shiny, and it fits Kit perfectly.

Staring cross-eyed at it, Geneva hums. “Huh. Well, yeah, that sure is a ring alright.”

Kit frowns and goes back to her bag. She zips it up and places it over the back of her chair. “Well, you’re no fun. Anyway, I got it from this French guy. He bought it for me while we were out on a date.”

Geneva arches an eyebrow. “You let him take you on a date?”

“Sure, and why shouldn’t I? It didn’t go anywhere, and he was convinced that he could fix me or something. His words, not mine.”

“And when he didn’t, he bought you jewelry as some sort of reward for your victory? “

“Well, I may have let him feel me up for a few minutes.”

“Kit!”

“What? It was through the shirt.”

“Oh, that makes it all better.”

“Hey, I told him up front that it wouldn’t go anywhere, and it didn’t. And, it worked out for everyone. I got a ring, and he got to shake hands with the twins.” Here, Kit pauses to examine her ring again. It gleams in the light. “I’d say that’s a fair trade, wouldn’t you?”

Geneva shakes her head, sighs. “You are a role model, Kit. Girls everywhere should strive to be like you.”

There is a pause.

“Anyway, that’s not all I have to tell you about,” Kit says. “I can’t end this conversation without mentioning the ladies over here.”

“Oh no,” Geneva says, groaning. “Here we go.”

“They’re great. Spectacular, and they’ve got tongues like you wouldn’t believe, let me tell you.”

Holding her ears, Geneva says, “Please, don’t tell me.”

Kit pauses and frowns. “Well, someone is touchy today. What in the world has got your panties so bunched up?”

“Nothing,” Geneva sighs.

“Oh, no, don’t you nothing me. Something is clearly bothering you.” Kit crosses her arms over her chest and stares determinedly at Geneva. “Tell me what.”

“Nothing. Nothing is bothering me. I’m always sarcastic.”

“Yeah, you are, but usually it’s funny-sarcastic. This. Isn’t. Funny. This is annoying. You’ve got a chip on your shoulder, so just go ahead and let it air so we can move passed all this ugly.”

“There is no ugly, so there’s nothing to move passed.”

Kit rolls her eyes again. “My God, who is this repressed? Just tell me, Genny.” In sweeter tones, “It’ll make you feel better.”

“I highly doubt that.”

They go silent and stare at each other. Kit sits, arms and legs crossed, wagging her foot, and stares as if her eyes are enough to wring the information out. Geneva stares back, more uncertainly, with her body slouched, and mustering as much defiance as she can.

After a few long, tense seconds, Kit says, “So, Genny, how was your summer?”

“Crappy. Spent it in summer school. Also, not what’s wrong.”

“Then what is wrong?”

“Nothing. Now, shush up. Teacher’s here.”

Kit turns in her seat. “Shushing,” she says, flipping her notebook open and readying her pen.

Mr. Jason Oliver enters the room. Having only just earned his degree a few years before, Mr. Oliver is one of the youngest members of the faculty. Despite this, he has made a name for himself as being forward thinking, friendly, and easy on the eyes. Older faculty find his relaxed approach lackadaisical, but students and parents are already quite fond of him.

Also, many of the girls harbor something of a small crush, Geneva included.

He is tall, lean, and fair, and he keeps his long hair in a ponytail, which sways with his movements, and enters the room with an easy stride and a smile. Once at his desk, he waits patiently for the students to settle before speaking.

“Good morning, everyone,” he says, “And welcome to American History! Now, I’m sure some of you didn’t choose this course willingly, but rest assured, I will do my best to keep you all entertained and awake. That is, so long as you do your best to learn what I have to teach. History is—Well, guys and gals, it’s the core of everything, and American History is at the core of you,” he says, pointing for emphasis, “Whether you believe it or not. The things we’ll be learning, no matter how long ago they happened, have had a lasting relevance even into today’s modern, fast-paced world.”

He looks out at the sea of faces staring blankly back at him, and he laughs. “None of you care about that though, do you? You’re all just high on first-day-jitters, huh? Well, how about this: we’ll have an easy first day—a free day—and just assign books. How does that sound?”

The students cheer loudly in response. Lifting his hands in front of him as if to ward off the noise, Mr. Oliver quickly silences the teens.

“That went exactly as I expected it to. Okay, I’ll be calling out names. You all come up and grab one of these,” he says, patting a stack of books on his desk. “Give me the numbers, take the books, and take care of them. And you can talk while I do this, but keep the noise down. Do that, and you won’t have any homework until tomorrow. Deal?” Again, he is met with the general chaos of applause and cheers, which quickly dissolves into spirited but controlled conversation.

Mr. Oliver takes a seat behind his desk, hidden from view behind wall of books, and starts going through the names on his list. “Casey Allen.”

Kit leans over to Geneva. “So, summer was fine?”

“Summer was dismal.”

“What, did you fail your class or something? What was it again? Geometry?”

“Algebra. Basic algebra. Like, remedial algebra, and I didn’t fail it.”

“Oh. A?”

“C.”

Kit winces. “Ouch.”

“No, no, that’s good for me. Cs are like an A in my world.”

“Oh,” Kit says. “Well, then, congrats?

“Thanks.”

Kit leans back in her chair, crosses her arms again, this time comfortably. “Sorry you had such a crap summer, though.”

“My summer wasn’t,” Geneva sighs, “Just talk about something else, please.”

They fall into silence, which is made worse by the conversations surrounding them. Laughter and stories float through their isolated bubble in the back, like ripples in a pond. They are a wilted flower in a garden of sound.

Geneva looks out the window. “So, uh, did the girls you date buy you anything?”

Kit grins. “No, no, I buy them stuff.”

Geneva looks at her. “So, they’re, what, prostitutes?”

“Ew. No.” Kit frowns. “No, never. It’s just how dating works, Genny. You find a pretty girl. You take her on a date. You buy her something shiny.”

Geneva hums. “Bitches do love shiny.”

“Yes,” Kit says, holding up her ring to gaze at it fondly. “Yes, we do. Anyway, then you take them somewhere private, take off that shiny thing you just bought them, and…”

“I get the feeling this story isn’t going to end with a firm handshake and a parting of ways.”

“No. Does it ever?”

Geneva sighs. “No.”

“Exactly,” Kit says, now flashing a grin. She looks at Geneva and lifts her eyebrows. “I’m good at what I do.”

“Well, you do seem to get a lot of practice.”

“I know, right?”

“Stop grinning. Wasn’t a compliment.”

“Didn’t sound like an insult.”

“It was neutral. The statement was neutral. I’m neutrally passing judgment on you and everything you do. I’m complex like that.”

Kit stares at Geneva for a few seconds and then says, “You know, I can never tell if you’re joking or not.”

“Part of my charm.”

“Anyway, I didn’t just have sex while I was there. We also did all of the tourist crap. Saw the Louvre. The Eiffel Tower. Didn’t make Oktoberfest, though.”

“Yeah, pretty sure that’s in October.”

“You don’t say,” Kit says, chuckling. “It was fun, though, really fun.” She pauses and stares ahead. The stack of books is shrinking gradually. “Sorry I didn’t write,” she says after some thought.

Geneva shrugs and turns back to the window. “Was busy anyway.”

“Yeah. With Algebra?”

“Yes, with the remedial Algebra. Also, beat a few games over the summer.”

“Did you go outside? Even a little?”

Geneva gives Kit a quick, horrified glance. “And risk skin cancer? Please, Kit. That’s just dangerous. Irresponsible and dangerous.”

“You’re stupid. Someday, you’re going to regret all of those days you spent in front of that screen, you know.”

“Maybe, but all of that regret will be washed away by relief when you die. From skin cancer,” Geneva says, “I’ll miss you.”

Kit rolls her eyes. “You ever notice how most of our conversations end with you talking about how I die?”

“You live a dangerous life, Kit, what with all your sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And the dancing. Footloose-preacher-dad would not approve.”

“Geneva Oaks.”

Hearing her name, Geneva excuses herself and goes to the front of the room. There, she speaks with Mr. Oliver. He assigns her a book, and she reads him the number from the inside flap. Upon returning, she catches Kit rifling through binder. Geneva jerks it away angrily while Kit unfolds a piece of paper she pulled from the inside.

Kit grins. “Just what I was looking for.”

“Hey,” Geneva says, “Give that back!” She swipes at it ineffectually while Kit keeps her at bay with one hand. Defeated, Geneva slumps back into her chair and huffs. “Have you no sense of privacy?”

Kit shrugs. “Just wanted to see your class schedule.” She examines it closely, her smile broadening while Geneva’s glare intensifies. “Let’s see. We share first hour, second hour, and fifth hour. Only three classes?”

Geneva takes the moment to yank the paper from Kit’s slender hands, and narrowly avoids ripping it to shreds in the process.

Kit looks at her in mock-sympathy. “Oh, Genny, how are you ever going to survive without me?”

“Please, I’ll probably do better without you there to distract me,” Geneva says, jamming the schedule back into her binder and zipping it in for added protection.

“Now, come on, you don’t mean that.”

“No, I don’t,” Geneva says, slumping onto her desk. “Trying to keep hopes up and all of that.”

“And how is that turning out for you?”

“Dismally.”

Kit nods. “So, anyway, I’ve been wondering about something.”

“No, I won’t let you sleep with my sister.”

“Not what I was going to ask,” Kit says, grinning, “But since we’re on the subject, why not?”

“Many, many reasons, but mostly, I just don’t think she swings that way.”

“Please, give her a few wine-coolers and a couple of minutes alone with me, and I’ll have her swinging whatever way I want.”

“Your confidence, while impressive, is misplaced. If the cavalcade of young suitors she entertains in the privacy of her bedroom are any indication, well, she likes the D, and she likes it a lot.”

Kit shrugs and leans back in her chair. “Her loss. Now, onto the real question.”

“Mom is off limits, too,” Geneva says.

“How close are you to graduating exactly?”

Geneva purses her lips and stares at the ceiling as she thinks. “Two years?”

“So, you’ll graduate on time.”

“Gods and Buddha willing, sure, it can happen. Though, the probability is like snow in July. In hell.”

Kit pauses and looks at her. “Do you even believe in hell?”

“Like, me as the individual or me the Jew? Cause regardless of what my religion may or may not say on the subject, I know for fact that hell does exist. I spent the summer there.”

Kit snorts out some laughter and nearly tips her chair. Falling forward, she says, “It couldn’t have been that bad?”

“It was pretty bad. I nearly committed ritualistic suicide with my pencil just to end the mind-numbing boredom.” Geneva looks Kit in the eyes and says, “Worst. Summer. Ever.”

“Will you have to go back next summer?”

“For the record, I really didn’t want to think about it, but yes.”

“And then?”

“And then what?”

“Well, you’ll graduate?”

“I already answered this one,” Geneva says.

“Actually, you danced around it.”

“Yeah, kind of my thing,” Geneva says, and she watches Kit watch her. She sighs. “Fine, yes, I’ll graduate,” she makes quotation makes with her fingers, “‘On time.’ Then, I’ll be able to leave this horrible place behind. This is all dependent on me passing all of my classes in the foreseeable future. There, happy?”

Kit lounges again. She crosses her legs and hangs her sandal precariously off of one of her bare feet. Her toenails are painted pink and have little flowers carefully drawn on the center of the nails. She smiles. “Yeah, actually, I am.”

“Good, then. I guess. I don’t really see how it’s any of your business or concern, though.”

“Hey, it’s my business and my concern because you’re my friend, and I want to us to go to college together.”

“Oh,” Geneva says. “Oh, in that case, I’ve got mega bad news for you. This girl,” she points at herself with her thumbs for clarity, “is so not going to college.”

Kit casts a sideways glance at Geneva. “You’re what?”

“Oh, come on, you can’t be that surprised. I’m barely managing high school. I so won’t be able to make it in college. And, I don’t know if you’ve noticed my hand-me-down rags, but my family doesn’t exactly have a pot of gold waiting around to send me.”

“Beatrice goes to college.”

“Beatrice is a bitching writer, and got equally bitching scholarships. This girl,” she says, repeating her previous gesture, “has neither skills nor charm. Me going to college is both a waste of time and money—money, I regret to remind you, that my parents don’t have in the first place. So, I’m not going.”

“Then what are you going to do with your life?”

“Get a job. Work. Play video games. Not go to school. You know, the good life,” she says, sighing and staring off into the distance.

“Any job that you get straight out of high school is going to give you minimum wage at best.”

“Okay, then I start at the bottom and work my way up. Like Drake.”

“Work your way up to what without a degree?”

“Executive Command Fry Cook-a-neer?”

“I’m serious, Genny! Also, while we’re on this, what will you do when you have kids? How will you support them on minimum wage?”

“My husband will be rich,” Geneva says. “He’ll be George Clooney.”

“Genny.”

“Kit.”

“Be serious.”

“Be serious about what, Kit? I’m sixteen. Sixteen! I don’t even know if I want kids. Or a husband. I don’t even know if I want a cat.”

“Well, you’d better make up your mind soon, because as things are looking now, a cat is about all you’re going to get. A cat, and a sad, lonely little life addicted to video games where you don’t leave your house.”

“Then I guess me and Fluffycakes will be happy together!”

“Genny!”

“Oh,” Geneva says, waving her hand dismissively, “Calm down.”

“No, I won’t calm down. My friend is basically telling me that she’s throwing her life away.”

“You’re ‘friend,’” Geneva says, giving the finger-quotes a repeat performance, “Is being realistic. Besides, I still fail to see how this is at all your problem. We hardly hang out at school and never in the big, bright open real world where people might happen to, you know, see us and stuff. Once high school is over we’ll go our separate ways, and I’ll get my apartment, my entry level job, and my dream Mr. Fluffycakes, because a cat does sound nice after all—my dad is allergic—and you’ll be off somewhere getting your fancy degree and being beautiful and busty and gallivanting with movie stars and having one night stands with, like, Miley Cyrus or something.”

Kit pauses and stares blankly at Geneva. “Miley Cyrus?”

“What, lesbians like her, right?”

“Ew. No, Genny, no!” Kit cringes. “You don’t get lesbians at all. Miley has the worst case of man-face.”

Geneva thinks about it and shrugs.

“Now, if you had said Megan Fox, I would have been all over that.”

“Megan Fox? Really?”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s so,” Geneva gestures vaguely, “Greasy. Every time I see her it looks like’s she been rubbed down with a bunch of Vaseline.”

“You’ve got a point,” Kit says, tilting her head slightly and imagining. “But I like my girls with a little grease. The trashy ones do the dirty stuff.”

“Okay, we can end this conversation pretty much, roughly, exactly now.”

Kit grins and sits forward. Leaning over, she whispers, “Oh, come on, Genny, you haven’t lived until you’ve been down on your knees with some butch woman running her hands through your hair…”

“And squeezing my head so hard that it bursts like an over-ripe melon?”

Kit recoils. “Gross, Geneva!”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Katherine Wright.”

Initially, Claude approached his journey with the naïve optimism of someone who had never travelled more than a few hours away from home. This lasted to the state border and dissolved rapidly through the night. By the time they arrive at the bus station his legs are stiff and his back stiffer, and the air, while not clean, is fresh enough to clear his head.

His first thought is how much larger the city is. Second, is how humid. He expected it to be colder farther north, but the air where he comes from is dry. The humidity is suffocating and makes the heat seem somehow more intense. His clothes are wet with sweat and sticking against his body almost immediately.

Tall buildings stick out in the distance like mountains. He stares at them and thinks how they look so large even so far away. He can’t even begin to imagine how big they are up close.

People on the bus move around him, finding home in the arms of their families or friends. Some get cabs and leave, and he stands there, a single bag slung over his shoulder, and stares out at the city.

He is struck by how foreign everything feels.

He goes inside of the bus station and speaks with a bored looking clerk who is short but stocky and has her dark hair pulled into a tight bun. The uniform makes her already broad shoulders look broader. She gives him a tired smile and asks how she can help him in a tone that indicates an innate unwillingness to help.

Claude leans in toward the window and says, more loudly than necessary, “Uh, well, I was actually wondering if you know any places to stay around here?”

She gives him a distant stare. “Like a hotel?”

“Sure,” Claude says. “And maybe a place that’s hiring?” Claude looks around the room, grimaces a bit, and then meets her eyes again. “Uh, are you guys hiring?”

Another long stare follows, this one more bewildered and somewhat sympathetic. “Sir, um, did you, like, move up here without a job or something?”

Claude smiles self-consciously. He puts his hands in his pockets, shrugs, and laughs. The laughter tapers off sharply when she doesn’t join in. “Well, yeah, but it shouldn’t be too bad, right?”

She pauses, shakes her head, sighs, “I, uh, I know a place you can stay. It’s a ways from here, but there is a public bus you can ride that drops off near it. It’ll be cheaper than a taxi service.” She pulls out a pamphlet with a small map of the area on it and writes across it with a thick, red marker. “They’ve got fair prices. I know the owner, used to work for him. He’s a nice guy.”

She slides the pamphlet through to Claude, who looks at her drawings on the map. Without context they looked like squiggles. He pockets it.

“As for a job,” she says thoughtfully. “Well, talk to them. They may have a better idea, and whatever happens, I’m sure they’ll work something out on the price until you can get on your feet. They’re good people.”

Claude taps the counter. “Thanks,” he says, accompanying it with a smile. “And the bus…”

She points toward the door. “Just outside, to the right. It’ll have a sign. And be careful, it can be dangerous here if you don’t know your way around.”

Claude laughs. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine.”

He exits the building again and steps back out into the boiling heat of the city. A frown settles onto his face like moisture. He tugs on his shirt and looks to his right, finding a sign, a bench, and a bus schedule. “There we go,” he says, adjusting his bag and taking a seat to wait on the bus.

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