"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Swanson. Have a seat. So, I've thought about your request for this project. About that girl."
"What about her?"
"What are your intentions in regards to her?"
"I was planning to assess her abilities and see whether or not we should be worried about this."
"Is that all?"
"I see. ...Alright. I want her to see her abilities in person before we decide anything. Now."
"Now. Bring her here as soon as possible so that I can see her abilities in person. I want to make sure that this isn't a waste of time. You are to leave immediately, and you must return with her."
"But sir, it's Tuesday. She's probably in class right now."
"I don't care if she's in class, or on a boat, or getting a medal from the President. I want her here immediately. Dismissed."
"Understood. But sir, why is this so urgent for you?"
"I'll go get her."
Derek hesitated as he looked in the cafeteria. The girl from yesterday, Lauren, was sitting by herself eating school-bought breakfast. She wore exactly the same thing as the day before, except with a red shirt instead of a blue one. The fact that this seemingly normal girl knew his biggest secret didn't bother him in the slightest. What did was the idea that Lucas could show up any time. But a quick check showed no sign of the brute. Yet. Sighing in relief, he approached her table.
"There you are," said Lauren. "What's with the hesitation over there?"
"Scouting for Lucas," said Derek.
Derek waited as Lauren took a bite of her breakfast biscuit. He glanced to the side and hoped not to see Lucas. His hopes paid off. For now.
"So," said Lauren, drawing Derek's attention. To his surprise, her breakfast biscuit was gone.
"Did you finish that whole biscuit already?"
"Okay then," said Derek uncertainly. After Lauren took out a second biscuit and started eating it, Derek added, "Now what?"
"Huh?" said Lauren with a mouth full of food.
"I dunno. Conversation. What next?"
"Well, there's school. What class do you have first?"
"Math. Not fun."
"Well, you get to surprise your teacher with homework."
"I always turn in my homework. It just takes me forever to get it done."
"What about you?"
"Of course I turn in my homework."
"Not that. Your first class."
"Yeah. You learn a lot about plots and writing. I might be...more inclined towards medicine for a career choice, but I had this idea of maybe being a writer. Though I'm no good at it. All my free writings in English get Cs at best."
"Can't really help you there. I get Bs in English, but writing is kinda hit and miss. Like drawing. Some people are good at it, others not so much."
"So why'd you wanna go for medicine anyway?"
"You know, to save lives and stuff."
Just then, the bell rang, interrupting their conversation for the second time. "Man. Gotta go," said Derek.
"Both our classes are that way, I'm assuming," said Lauren, standing up.
The two of them head off to class, not quite knowing how to continue the conversation. They split up at a point in the halls, and Derek took his seat and fished out his homework, passing it up with everyone else's.
Unable to focus on Mr. Barnes's lecture as usual, Derek started sketching. He started thinking about his other transformations, wondering just what their abilities were. An idea occurred to him: he never got to see if the forms were just appearances, and the powers were shared among all of them. He resolved to see if he could turn invisible as Amelia, instead of the odd dress-wearing girl. Even so, he went to sketching another of the forms.
But he hesitated. Many of the finer details of the forms were blurred in his mind; he could get a decent picture overall, but not many specifics. Just like sketching Amelia before he finally assumed that form. Groaning in annoyance, he tried sketching anyway.
"Psst," whispered the voice next to him. Derek turned to look, and the boy whispered again. "What happened to your eye?"
Derek hadn't even thought about his eye since yesterday's glimpse in the mirror. "Oh, uh... Lucas," he whispered back.
"Ah," whispered the guy. Derek had to get his name at some point, but went back to sketching, not really thinking about what he was doing this time.
When the bell rang and he looked back, he saw he'd sketched some kind of cheerleader, if the clothes were anything to go by. Again, the finer details were a bit blurry, but he remembered this one from the dream, reporting about something to do with cells. The details evaded him again, so he packed up and walked off.
As he rounded a corner, he bumped into one of the senior girls. She was an inch shorter than him by his guess, with light-brown hair in a braid save the bangs covering most of the left side of her face, and had a black choker necklace, yellow shirt, and blue skirt. "Sorry," he said, stepping to the side and out of her way. She started to walk off a bit quicker than most people. "Not very social, huh," muttered Derek, walking on.
"Hey Dirk," said Ben, standing at his usual hall corner. Derek looked up at the lanky guy's face, spotting a confused expression. "You seen Luke this morning?"
"No," said Derek. Confusion set in with him too; surely Ben would've seen him. Then he tried to shrug it off. "It's Derek, by the way."
"Hey what happened to your eye?"
Are you serious? thought Derek. "It got hurt," he said unhelpfully.
"Ah, makes sense."
Derek kept on moving, surprised Ben didn't bug him further. He walked into class and found Mike already there. With a scowl on his face. "So where'd Luke go?" he said.
"Beats me," said Derek.
"That can be arranged," said Mike.
Derek checked the seat and found something sticky there. "Did you put glue on my seat?"
"So what if I did?"
Derek started to move the desks, planning to switch his desk with an empty one in the back corner. At that point, Mr. Tannen walked in. "Mr. Parker, I would appreciate it if you left your seat where it was."
"There's glue on my seat. I'll get stuck."
"You are responsible for any missed notes." The teacher went about his business as usual while Derek switched the desks. Not taking chances, he moved the glued seat to the back first, then moved the clean one to his spot and immediately sat in it, so as to prevent Mike from messing with his seat again.
"Derek," said Mike. Derek ignored him, opening his notebook. "Derek." Ignored again. Derek waited for Mr. Tannen to start the lecture.
A sharp pain in his back got Derek to turn around. "What?" he said.
"I think you know where Luke is. Tell me."
"I honestly have no idea."
"Bolshevik. You know something, don't you?"
Derek was briefly distracted by Mike's use of a Russian political term as a profanity euphemism. He snapped back and said, "Don't know where he is, so can't tell you."
"Tell me what he did already."
The phrasing was probably a slip of the tongue, but Derek couldn't help but notice Mike hadn't asked about Derek's knowledge, but Lucas's actions. Maybe Mike knew something himself? Or suspected something? The question was unanswered as the final bell rang and Mr. Tannen started his lecture.
A half hour into class, there was a knock on the door, which served no real purpose other than to draw attention to the person opening it without hesitation.
"Excuse me. I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" said the newcomer. The man in the suit. Agent Richard Swanson.
Without even turning from the board, Mr. Tannen said, "Yes, you're interrupting my class. Please wait until the end."
"I'm sorry sir, but I have my orders. I'm looking for a Derek Parker. He needs to give his account of a crime he witnessed last week."
"It can wait until after class. Now, production of the Model T-"
"It can't wait until after class. It's a rather urgent case, and my boss is insistent we gather all necessary evidence now, which includes Mr. Parker's testimony."
Mike was quick to speak up. "Well, if you need a Mr. Parker, I'd be more than willing to ditch this place and-"
"Save it. You're not him." Mr. Swanson then noticed Derek right in front of Mike. "Ah. Come along, Derek. It's urgent."
Derek started to stand. At the same moment, Mr. Tannen returned to his lecture, and Mike was quick to poke Derek with a sharpened pencil. "Ow!" said Derek.
"I saw that, young man," said Mr. Swanson. "Would you like me to give you another detention?"
"Another? That was you that ratted us out last week?"
"I'm in a hurry. Derek, please come along."
Derek walked out the door, but was hit with a spitball in the back of his head. Mr. Swanson ducked his head back in and stared directly at Mike, glaring. He then pointed two fingers at his eyes, then turned his wrist to point them at Mike. Mike responded with a face that seemed to say "What!?" all by itself.
"Where are we going?" said Derek as they walked through the halls.
"I'll tell you when we get to the car," said Mr. Swanson.
A minute later, the duo left the building and got into the car. Hoping to find answers, Derek said, "So what sort of crime am I supposed to pretend to know about?"
"None," said the agent, starting to drive off. "We're going to my office. My boss wants to see your abilities first-hand before anything else happens."
"It has to be on a school day?"
"Yes. Most likely you won't be back in time for your last class. I'll try to get you home by dinner, though, so don't worry."
"Well, okay. I guess. But what about my parents?"
"We're going to pick them up. Call them and tell them Agent Swanson is on his way to pick them up."
"I don't have a cell phone on me."
"You're a teenager, and you don't have a phone?"
Agent Swanson pinched the bridge of his nose, then said, "Then we'll have to surprise them. I'll use the same witness testimony excuse to get them out of work for today. I'm sure their bosses will understand."
Derek's parents' bosses took longer to understand than expected. Mrs. Parker's boss was more okay with it, since it was a simple restaurant job and there were plenty of cooks. In fact, Mrs. Parker's departure cleared up extra moving space in the kitchen, which they all saw as a relief due to how cramped it was getting. Mr. Parker's boss, on the other hand, took almost an hour to negotiate with before the boss finally said 'yes'.
Getting in the car, Mr. Parker said in annoyance, "Okay, we're away from possible listening ears. What is it that's so important?"
Agent Swanson said, "Simple. We're on our way to go have my boss look at Derek's abilities. My boss decided to put a rush on things. He wants to see you're not a hoax. And I need you two to accompany him. Legal guardianship and such.
"However, there's a few crucial details that we need to go over first. First, and most important of all of these, is that I haven't told my boss that you can transform. All he knows is that you can fly. By your account, you can't fly normally, which means you'll have to transform before we get there, and remain transformed until after we leave. Any questions on that before I move on?"
"Yes," said Derek's father. "Why did you tell them my son was a girl? I can't-"
"I didn't tell them your son was a girl. I told them there was a girl with the power to fly and showed only parts of the evidence. I left out the transformation part of the tape and only showed the flight part. There is no association between Derek and Amelia."
"So now you're telling them this mysterious flying girl isn't even a relative?"
"We're smoothing out the details right now. We have to make up a past for Amelia on the way. Nothing overly detailed, though."
"I don't believe this! First you want me to pretend my son was never my son in the first-"
"Honey, please!" said Derek's mother. "He said we're working it out, so we'll work it out. Okay?"
The car pulled up behind a few cars at a red light. "Yes," said Swanson, "we'll deal with the obvious holes in Amelia's existence as soon as we can. Derek, what are your thoughts about this?"
Derek was still thinking about the whole conversation, that he'd have to remain transformed for the entire interview or test or whatever it was, with all the pressure it seemed to entail. He had ignored being female the last few times he was, because of other circumstances, but now he would have to actively lie and pretend to have always been female to the face of a complete stranger, one deeply involved in the government at that. What the hell is going on here? It hasn't even been a month, and I'm already in a huge mess of crazy. Well, at least I'm not dealing with Lucas. ...But I'm not sure if that's really a good thing here.
"Derek?" said the agent.
"Huh?" said Derek. "Uh, yeah."
"I asked how you were taking this."
Derek turned to look back out the window. "Well... It's kinda weird that I have to pretend to be a girl. I'm not really looking forward to that."
"That part I understand. Trying to pass as the opposite sex isn't something that most people are comfortable with, even if they're not the ones doing so. Still, we can use today's society to our advantage and pass you off as a tomboy. You look the part already, so it shouldn't be hard. At worst, you just have to remember which bathroom to go into, and there's no trouble."
Derek's mother interjected with, "I'm pretty sure there's more to being a girl than just bathrooms."
"In this day and age?" said the agent. "Besides, I think you two will have more trouble than Derek will."
"Why's that?" said Derek's father.
"Well, for one, you, George, seem to insist on your son being male. You'll have to pretend that Amelia isn't your son Derek, despite you knowing otherwise. Your wife might adjust better, but the both of you will have to watch your tongues carefully to avoid slipping up."
They turned down an old road.
"Where are we going?" said Derek's father.
"Detour. Away from prying eyes. If you're going to transform, do it now where no one can see."
Derek hesitated for a few seconds, not sure if he wanted to act as an entirely different person. "Why do I have to do this again?" he said. "Can't I just show your boss my transforming thing? Isn't that the point of this? To show him my abilities?"
"There's a reason why I concealed your transformation. Security. People go to great lengths to protect this country from spies and criminals and terrorists. Meanwhile, those spies and criminals and terrorists go to great lengths to avoid being detected. The revelation that there is a person who can wholly and completely change their entire body down to the genetic level would only bring panic and paranoia. Suspicion of innocents being framed, or of known criminals hiding in plain sight. That sort of thing. Which is why that is one aspect of your powers that will be kept a complete secret."
"Keeping my son in disguise to prevent people from thinking others are in disguise?"
"That is an effective summary, yes. Now, we're almost to the turnoff back to the main roads. You'd better change now."
Derek still hesitated, but he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry," said his mother. "I'll be right here with you."
This eased Derek enough. He put his hand on his mother's and willed the transformation to happen. A shifting of motion and a small wave of light, and he was back to being Amelia. In response, his mother shifted to grip Derek's hand.
Derek's father just sat there, disappointed.
"There," said the agent. "Now, we have to discuss Amelia's background information. All of us have to remember this story and be consistent with it. We have until we arrive to memorize it, but I'll take us around the Beltway to give us more time. Now, for starters, we need to make up the reason why she doesn't have a birth certificate."
The car pulled up in the parking garage, and the quartet got out. "I've been past this place before," said Mr. Parker.
"Of course. We're a federal agency. What need would we have for hiding one of our offices?"
"Secrecy?" suggested Amelia, shutting her door.
"Well the FBI only holds secrets until the end of an investigation, much like standard police and detective work, to keep the criminals from keeping tabs on where their pursuers are coming from. After the criminal is caught and the investigation completed, then the press gets their story. Other than that, there's no real reason why we need to cover up the office where we take phone calls."
In silence, the group left the parking garage and headed into the building. It was like a standard office building, but with four policemen in the lobby. "This is more guards than I see at most banks," noted Amelia.
"We're the FBI, not the Bank of America," said Swanson. "As such, increased security is important for us." He flashed his badge to the officers and said, "These three are with me. I have authorization from Mr. Fluke."
The receptionist checked his computer for a moment, then made a quick phone call to the appropriate office. "Mr. Fluke? We have the non-crippled Swanson here-" At that joke, Mr. Swanson rolled his eyes and sighed in annoyance. "-and he has a family of three with him. Says they can come in with him by your authorization." Muffled words were heard from the other end. "Yes sir." An even longer pause. "Uh huh. Okay sir. Thank you." The receptionist hung up and said, "I'm sorry, Joe, but Mr. Fluke says only you and the girl can come upstairs. Parents have to stay behind."
Mr. Parker blinked. "Then what did we come here for?"
"Why can't they come up with me?" said Amelia.
"I'm sorry," said Mr. Swanson. "I thought he'd allow it. Well, no use fighting it now. Amelia, if you would come with me."
Amelia glanced back to Mr. and Mrs. Parker. Mrs. Parker put her hand on Amelia's shoulder and said, "Don't worry. Remember what we talked about, and be brave. Alright?" Amelia nodded at this.
Mr. Parker looked at Amelia and said, "Stay tough. Remember, you have me looking out for you."
Amelia smiled at this and said, "Thanks."
"Come on, Amelia," said Mr. Swanson. "You're just going upstairs for a little while. No need for goodbyes."
"Right," said Amelia, following Mr. Swanson. "I'll be back."
"Be careful," said Mrs. Parker.
When the duo rounded the corner and entered an elevator, Amelia stood in the corner, reviewing as much of her cover story as she could remember.
"Take off the hat, Amelia," said Mr. Swanson.
"Huh- Oh." Amelia pulled the hat off, exposing her short red hair. It gave her hands something to do, as she started rolling and unrolling the hat between them.
"I understand that you're nervous," he said. "And I guarantee you'll be even more nervous when you meet Mr. Fluke. Or even afraid. Just don't worry. Keep your story in mind, I'll back you up when you need it. Try to relax. Pretend you're talking to a close friend or something. Okay, Amelia?"
Amelia took a few deep breaths. "Yeah. Okay." The elevator dinged as it reached the sixth floor. It was just another office floor, which was surprising. "This place doesn't look very FBI-ish."
"We're supposed to have a distinctive look?" said Mr. Swanson with a smirk.
"Well it just seems too bright. You work with secrets, right?"
"Ah, but if it was too dark, we wouldn't be able to see our paperwork." Amelia had to concede to this logic.
The duo reached a room on the side of the floor left of the elevators. "Here we are," said Mr. Swanson. In a low whisper, he added, "Remember your story and it'll be fine." He then knocked on the door four times.
"Come in," came the response. Mr. Swanson opened the door.
It was far from expected. The office room was small and sparse. Three tall filing cabinets stood in one corner. A long desk sat in the middle, with two swivel chairs in front of it. The window was wide, letting the natural light enter to offset the fact that the light was off. In the high-backed chair behind the desk sat a man in a business suit. He looked muscular, judging by the thickness of his arms, his broad shoulders, wide chest, but the suit hid any real definition to his strength. He had a square jaw and short black hair with a little curl hanging over his forehead.
"Ah. Mr. Swanson. Come on in," he said. His voice was somewhat average in tone, but backed with a sort of authoritative pitch to it.
"Mr. Fluke," said Mr. Swanson, "this is Amelia, the girl I told you about. Amelia, this is my boss, Theodore Fluke. Not the most powerful man in the organization by far, but he commands a lot of respect from all of us."
"Welcome, Amelia. It's a pleasure to meet you," said Mr. Fluke. He extended his hand to shake Amelia's.
Amelia returned the gesture and said, "Likewise." Her tone was more nervous, especially since Mr. Fluke's hand was literally twice as wide as her own. She gulped at that.
"Relax," he said. "I'm not going to harm you." He let go and leaned back. "Now, I'll cut to the chase. I heard you have the ability to fly. Could you demonstrate this for me?"
Amelia said, "Okay," in a low and anxious tone. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. Concentrating on lifting off the ground was a bit more difficult, but she was able to hover a foot up anyway, albeit with a little wobble.
Mr. Fluke then stood and walked around his desk. "W- What are you doing?" said Amelia.
"Relax," said Mr. Fluke. "I'm just checking something. Could you lay flat, please?"
With a little shaking, Amelia turned so she was floating level with the floor. Mr. Fluke then walked past her on one side, holding his arm above her. He walked around to her other side, this time holding his hand underneath her. Finally, after making his sweep, he stepped back behind his desk. "Alright, I'm convinced."
Mr. Swanson sighed in slight relief. Amelia turned over on her side and said, "What was that about?"
"I wanted to make sure this was real. Since it is, then going further with this won't be a waste of time."
"Oh, okay," said Amelia.
"Now, before anything else happens, I'd like to ask you a few questions if that's alright with you."
"Uh..." Amelia looked towards Mr. Swanson, who nodded. "Sure, I... guess."
"Good. Uh, you can have a seat. No need to keep floating."
"Right." Amelia turned to a standing position and touched down on the floor, then sat in one of the chairs.
"Now, first of all, where did you get your unusual ability?"
"Well, I..." Amelia had almost forgotten her cover story, but not enough for it to be beyond her reach. "I was born with it, I guess. I don't really know why or how, but I've had this power for as long as I can remember."
"Hmm... And how is it that you've stayed off the radar, rather literally, until last Thursday?"
"Well I haven't really used this power all that much. People are kinda weirded out by it, or upset by it, or whatever, so I don't really get to use it much."
"I don't see how people not liking the idea warrants being unable to use it."
"Well that's because they were always kinda... unpleasant, or uncomfortable around people who were... different."
"Ah. You've lived with those kind of people. Racists?"
"Racists, homophobes, die-hard Catholics..."
"Sounds like you've had it rough."
"Uh huh. My own parents were so uncomfortable with it, they tried hiding me. I never even got a birth certificate."
"I see. That explains your lack of records. We'll have to fix that, though. What's your last name?"
"Well, my parents had the last name Stevens, but I've been living with the Parker family for a couple of weeks now. They're nice people. So I guess it's Parker, I guess."
"If you were born Stevens, that's the name you'll go with. You're not living with your parents?"
"They tried to hide me, remember? I kinda ran away from them when I was eight. Usually when things get too troublesome, I just leave."
"Well, I hope that doesn't happen again. I have to inform you that, because of your abilities, you've caught my interest. As such, I'd like for you to stay in one place, so we can keep an eye on you. I'm assigning Mr. Swanson there to be your personal consultant for your abilities and identity creation. He is in charge of giving you a legal identity as well as making sure you stay out of trouble. And you'll have to consult the Parker family as well, to see if they want to legally adopt you or simply be your foster parents, or whether they would prefer someone else to protect you. Are you alright with this?"
Mr. Swanson chimed in with, "I think that sounds like a reasonable course of action. As for her parentage, we'll deal with that later."
"Timing is important, Richard. I would like for her to have a legal identity at least in the process of being made by this time next week."
"Yes sir," said Mr. Swanson. "I'll make that the priority."
"Good. Now, you two are dismissed. As much as this interests me, I can't deal with someone with unusual abilities personally forever. I have other things that have to be done. For starters, there've been a wave of impossible thefts in the past week, with no leads. Think I'll send Jones in on that one."
"Alright," said Mr. Swanson. "Come along, Amelia."
"Right," said Amelia, following Swanson out the door.
"Oh," said Swanson, "and thank you for your time."
"A pleasure," said Mr. Fluke. And with that, the two left, closing the door behind them. Mr. Fluke turned to stare out the window, tapping his lip with a pencil. "So she ran away often, did she. Hmm..."
Outside the room, the duo was returning to the elevator. "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" said Mr. Swanson.
"He was... intimidating," said Amelia. "Fair, I guess, but still intimidating."
"Don't worry about it. Everyone gets that feeling around him." They were at the elevator now, but Amelia hesitated to get in. "What's wrong?" said Mr. Swanson, pushing the 'open doors' button for now.
She was giving an unusual face. A mixture of apprehension, tension, anxiety, and discomfort. "I... um... I, um, have to..."
"Amelia? Are you al-" He wondered what she was thinking, until the shuffling of motion at the bottom of his vision drew his eyes. He noticed her thighs were pressing together uncomfortably. And he was able to piece two and two together. "Oh, oh! Erm... Can you hold it in?"
"Not sure. Where's the men's room? I need to-"
Mr. Swanson left the elevator and led her to the side of the room. "Here," he said. "The lady's room. I'll wait right out here." He could tell that she was about to protest, but he added in a whisper, "Stay female in there. We can't ruin this now of all times, and for this of all reasons." He almost pushed Amelia into the bathroom.
Inside, Amelia looked around for a moment, spotting the stalls, the mirror, the sinks... and nothing else of note. It was just like a men's room except for the lack of urinals. She stepped into the largest stall and stared at the toilet for a moment. "Okay," she said, trying to reassure herself. "Okay. It's just a toilet. It's not the end of the world here. It's just a little disturbing, is all." She carefully fumbled with her pants zipper. "I've unbuttoned my pants before. This shouldn't be any different. Except it is. But it shouldn't be, and..." She felt as if the pressure was actively building in her bladder. "...screw it." Without hesitating, she pulled her pants and underwear down and sat in one quick move.
She didn't dwell on the feeling of how different it felt to pee while female than while male. Instead, she tried to trace the lines between the tiles of the floor. The watery sensation was splitting her focus, and she had to actively concentrate on thinking about something else. She reviewed what she learned about Henry Ford. Her eyes ended up drawn to the underwear sitting on her knees. White panties. She tried not to think about them but failed spectacularly. "Guess I have no choice but to talk to Mom about it now. One awkward therapy session, hold the onions." She forced a brief false smile at that.
Done with that, she sat there for a short time. "I can't believe I just did that," she whispered. "Why couldn't I have switched back for this? Or held it in until we found a Burger King or something? I stayed like this just to keep up the secret? I'm in a bathroom! Nowhere else is more private." She paused for a moment, thinking on everything. "I just peed as a girl. Doesn't get more definite than that."
Amelia sat up and pulled her panties back into place, for the first time aware of how tight they felt against her body. Any other time, she would've used 'snug' to describe it, but at this point, she couldn't quite focus. She pulled her pants back up and tried to button them again, then remembered the button fastener was backwards from boy's pants. Now entirely conscious of her underwear, she shuffled out the stall and to the sink, washing her hands. Rubbing the soap on her hands left them eerily smooth and soft, another feeling she wasn't used to. Done rinsing the soap off, she splashed some water on her face and looked at her reflection.
Why is all this happening? First I wake up on the ceiling, then the government catches me, then Lauren catches me, then I spend a whole afternoon as a girl at her house, now I'm in the girl's bathroom on purpose. It's like some kind of bad fan fiction or something. Drying her hands and face off with the paper towels, she finally left the bathroom, glad to be out of there.
Mr. Swanson was still nearby, waiting patiently. "Ah. Finally. What took so long?"
Amelia glanced up at him and said, "I was in the bathroom. Don't bring it up. Please."
The two of them returned to the elevator and started to descend. Amelia looked down at her boots, trying to make heads or tails of just what she should be feeling at this moment.
"Hey, relax. It's not the end of the world," said Mr. Swanson.
"I just peed as a girl," said Amelia. "You try it and see if you can take it in stride."
He put his hand behind his head. "Well there are worse things that can happen. This is a minor deal. It's not like I asked you to dress up as a princess or anything."
Amelia sighed as the door opened. They headed into the lobby, where Mr. and Mrs. Parker were still waiting, chatting with one of the employees. Mr. Parker noticed Amelia and tapped his wife's shoulder. She looked over and said, "Oh! You're back already."
"He didn't ask as many questions as I thought he would," said Mr. Swanson. "Well, I think we ought to head on back. I'll stop by your house later this afternoon so we can discuss things."
"Wait, why does it sound like you're leaving us now?" said Mr. Parker.
Mr. Swanson sighed. "Mr. Parker, I'm going to take you back to your work place. Amelia and Mrs. Parker need some time to talk by themselves."
"Why? What happened?" said Mrs. Parker.
Mr. Swanson smiled. "I don't think that's my conversation to have. Come on. I'll pay for bus fare and everything."
"What happened?" insisted Mr. Parker.
The quartet walked outside and into the parking garage. Keeping it down, Mr. Swanson said, "Amelia, if you may..."
Amelia hesitated, then lowered her head and said, "Well, the agent we saw... he was a...big guy. Muscles, not fat. And having to answer those questions, lying to his face... I was worried I'd get caught. I still think we should've told him about my transforming."
"And I've already explained why we didn't," said Mr. Swanson. "Please continue."
"Well, anyway... All that stuff I just said... kinda made me nervous. I... um..."
"What is it?" said Mrs. Parker.
When Amelia remained silent, Mr. Swanson said, "Put bluntly, she had to pee. It seems she doesn't quite know how to take it."
"Oh," said Mr. Parker. They reached the car, which Mr. Swanson unlocked with a push of a button on his keys. Without hesitating, Mr. Parker opened the passenger door and got inside, shutting it tightly. Almost slamming it even.
Mr. Swanson stared at the car for a moment, then took something out of his wallet. "Here's my bus fare card. I'll want it back later today, so don't lose it." He handed the card to Mrs. Parker.
"Thank you," she said. "Come on, Derek." She turned towards the street.
"Uh, sure thing," said Amelia, following closely. "Thanks, Mr... uh..."
"Swanson," said the agent.
"Right." Amelia turned away and followed Mrs. Parker out the lot while Mr. Swanson got in his car and drove off past them.
The two girls waited at the bus stop nearby. A car drove by. Some people were walking on a sidewalk. A lady walked out of a store, then slumped against her car in defeat at the sight of how close others had parallel parked to her. A bird landed in the street, only for another car to scare it away.
"So..." started Amelia's mother, finally breaking the silence, but then trailing off.
"So... what?" said Amelia.
"So...how'd it go?"
"Kinda weird towards the end..."
"I can imagine."
"No you can't."
"I can imagine. I can't relate, but I can imagine."
"Semantics," shrugged Amelia.
"So... Am I still your mother? I mean, legally? When you're like this?"
"Haven't worked that out yet, actually. That Swanson guy wants us to discuss it at home."
"Ah." Linda hesitated and said, "Would you... you know, like to change back?"
"I would, but... Where?" said Amelia.
"You could do what you did earlier and change in the... car... that... drove off without us."
"See what I mean?"
Linda pulled Amelia close and said, "Well, it doesn't matter. You don't have to change back right now. You're still you, and that's what matters."
"So, how about we talk over lunch? We'll catch the bus down to my restaurant, or we could stop at a McDonalds on the way."
"I... I guess."
"Hey, cheer up. So you had to pee and you forgot to change back for it. Everyone makes mistakes."
"Except I didn't forget. Mr. Swanson told me not to change to keep up the disguise. In a private bathroom. Nobody would've seen."
"Well, he probably didn't know if there was anyone in there. And... And what if you did change back, but someone came in and caught you?"
"Alright, fine. He knew what he was doing." Amelia glanced down the street. "The bus sure is taking a long time to get here."
"We're downtown. Traffic is crazy."
As if on cue, the bus turned a corner into the line of sight. The two of them boarded, using Mr. Swanson's bus pass to cover their fare, and sat down near the back. Nobody was back there, and they wanted to talk privately.
"Honey," started Mrs. Parker, "what's wrong?"
"You know what's wrong. I just...don't know how to deal with it. I don't know if I should be upset or embarrassed or what."
"It's fine, though. Just remember, no matter what happens, you can talk to me about it. I'm here for you." She hugged Amelia tightly, and Amelia returned the gesture.
"I don't know. It just felt...too weird. This... This was the first time I've ever felt like anything was different. Lying to that guy was bad enough, but..."
"Shh. It's okay. I'm here."
"Mom... I'm not sure what to do."
"It's alright. Look at me for a second. You know I'm always there for you, right? So you know no matter what, everything's gonna be okay."
"What about Dad? He seems kinda...uncomfortable with this."
"Your father has his own ways of dealing with things. He knows you're his son, and no matter what happens, that's not gonna change. You're still you, no matter what you look like."
"Thanks, Mom." Amelia pulled Linda in for another hug.
Elsewhere, Mr. Swanson said, "So Mr. Parker, I noticed you didn't react too well a moment ago."
Mr. Parker sat in silence for a few moments before saying, "Why didn't you make him change back to the way he is?"
"I was worried his identity would be found out. I told you the reason for the deception."
"I don't like this...this lying. I don't want people to think my son is someone else."
"If people found out about his transformation abilities, there would be an increase in paranoia among the public. I've already explained that. But it's also for your son's safety. I'm sure even among the law-upholding government officials that there are people who oppose the whole concept of transsexuality. There's still hate crimes against normal transgendered people. Imagine the outcry against someone who can change sex at will."
"I'd like to see them try." Mr. Parker clenched a fist.
"George, your son is a brave individual. He kept his cool against Mr. Fluke and didn't once slip up. The only fault was some quavering in his speech, and even that can be excused by meeting him for the first time. My boss is an intimidating man, and your son, even as he is normally, doesn't come close, let alone in the smaller, thinner form he was in at the time."
"In all honesty, I'd like this to be pushed under the rug."
"Can I ask specifically what your qualms about this are?"
"I just... I don't want my son to forget who he is."
There was silence for a moment. Interrupted by Mr. Parker saying, "Right here."
"I thought we were going to discuss things a bit longer."
"I'll work a couple hours later than normal today and tomorrow to make up for lost time."
"But we have to work on your son's alias's legal identity when you get home. If she's going to do this, she needs to at least have a birth certificate."
"You just... You don't understand. I understand what you're trying to do, but I... I have to work. Goodbye." He got out of the car and walked towards his office building.
Amelia and Linda managed to get home after a good two hours of bus travel and some distance on foot. Mr. Swanson was already parked there, waiting outside. Before they could say anything, Linda unlocked the door, and Amelia ran off to the bathroom, transforming back in the process.
Derek was brought back to school, feeling better about before but still not entirely sure of how to deal with everything. He made it in time for his sixth period Art class. He remained quiet during Art and Spanish and headed for the bus at the end of the day.
"Hey," said Lauren, approaching from the locker room area. "Where were you earlier? I didn't see you at lunch."
"It's a long story," said Derek.
"...well I can drive you home, so you can share if you want."
Derek hesitated for a moment. Did he really want to say what happened to her? Shaking his head, he said, "Sure, I guess," and turned to follow her.
In Lauren's car, Derek revealed what happened with Mr. Swanson and Mr. Fluke. Lauren was quiet during Derek's story, but couldn't help but laugh at Derek's bathroom experience. She quieted down when he said he didn't know how to react to it. But she pulled over when he talked about his parents' reactions.
"That's... It's good to know you have a Mom who supports you. I don't know about your Dad, but you should try to tell him everything's alright with you."
"That's it. I'm getting the impression that he doesn't really like Amelia that much. He tries to sound supportive and all, but... I'm not sure how he's taking it all."
Lauren started forward again. "Well you should still try and convince him everything's alright." They drove for a while before Lauren continued. "And I agree with this Agent guy about keeping your shapeshifting under wraps. You might get a lot of teasing about that."
"It's more than that," said Derek. "Apparently the whole idea of a boy turning into a girl is a sour point for some people. Lucas picks on me every day in the worst way. That sort of thing would happen from everyone if it got out."
They pulled up to Derek's house. "Ooh. That bad?"
"That's what Mom and Mr. Swanson said."
"Yikes." The two left the car. "Is this the Agent's car?"
"Yep. Why do you always point out the cars in my driveway?"
"I... I don't know."
They opened the door just as the bus was pulling by. "Mom, I'm home," said Derek. "Again." He walked over towards the living room, expecting to find her there. Sure enough, she was on the couch, across from Mr. Swanson, them both looking at paperwork.
"Good," said Linda. "We're just working on things here. Would you like to review this before we... Oh, hello Lauren."
"Hi," said Lauren.
Mr. Swanson stood and said, "I'm sorry, miss, but could you come back some time later? We're in the middle of something important here."
"Writing Amelia's legal identity?" said Lauren a bit matter-of-factly.
This surprised both adults. "Derek, did you tell..." started Linda, trailing off.
Derek sighed and explained how he met Lauren, and befriended her.
"I thought you understood the need for secrecy," said Mr. Swanson. "Though this explains where you got the idea for the name 'Stevens'. I hope you realize how much of a breach in security this is."
"Didn't he say it already?" said Lauren. "I know what it's like to be made fun of when my secrets get out. I wouldn't make him go through with that."
Mr. Swanson sighed and sat down. "Well, I'd say this complicates things. We can't keep tabs on you without a valid reason, and we can't give that reason without revealing Derek's transformation, which defeats the purpose of hiding it. I hope you know what you're getting yourself into. While Derek seems trustworthy, the government could see this as a matter of national security."
"I know, I know. Just pretend I never knew. I know when not to poke my nose into things."
"Yet you bugged me to find out about my powers," said Derek.
"Excuse me," said Mr. Swanson, "but if you're in on this, I'll have to know your name here."
"Oh, uh, Lauren Carter. And you're... Richard Swanson, right?"
"Loose lips sink ships, Derek," scolded Mr. Swanson.
"Sorry. She wanted the story, and at the time...yeah."
"It's okay, just as long as nobody else finds out." Sitting back down, he said, "Back to the matter at hand, I think we'll need to smooth over a few things about Amelia's identity. Education, previous places of residence, medical history, things like that. And once that's settled, I think we should set up your first abilities evaluation for this Friday afternoon. Does that sound good?"
"Sounds like it's a bit soon," said Derek.
"I'll see what I can do, but it'll be some time this weekend."
The four of them sat down and finished going over the details, fine tuning things here and there. It was decided Amelia would have the same date and time of birth as Derek, and medical records would be dealt with tomorrow. After that, Lauren and Derek went upstairs for homework.
"Hey, did you see Lucas at all today?" asked Derek in between math problems.
"No, I didn't. I think he got suspended, though."
This caught Derek by surprise. Lucas never got suspended. "What, really?"
"I saw what happened and reported it. I hope he got suspended and isn't just sick or something."
Dinner came around, and Lauren headed home. It was a couple hours before Mr. Parker returned home. Linda and George talked about the legal identity they and Mr. Swanson worked up, and then George went to bed early. Derek had long since retreated to his room but couldn't help but notice his father's early retirement.
It was late, and Derek was done sketching another drawing. He wondered about his powers again, but felt it would be better to deal with things in the morning. Resolving to talk to his father later, he took a quick shower and drifted off to sleep.
Once again, Derek drifted into dreams. In this one, he saw jets of fire below him, and he was sitting on something made of metal. Below the fire was a city, the buildings dangerously close. Derek's eyes started to tire, and as the city faded into water so close he could make out individual beachgoers, he slipped and fell towards the drink, jarring him back to the waking world. It was only midnight. Relaxing again, he returned to sleep.