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“C’mon Ames, it’ll be fun!”

I gave her my best stink-eye. Or I tried to, anyway. She made it difficult, pouting and fluttering her eyelashes up at me—which required her to kneel down, given I was seated on my bed. Not to mention the subtle prodding of her aura—enough that its presence was noticeable, even if it didn’t affect me. “I was planning to go to the hospital tonight.”

“You went yesterday,” Vicky said. “C’mon, please? They don’t need you tonight. And if something comes up, I’ll fly you right over!”

“Mm.” I didn’t stand, moving on to the next excuse on my mental checklist. “It’s not really my scene.”

“What isn’t?” she said, raising an eyebrow and smirking. “Talking to people? C’mon, Ames, it’ll be fine! You don’t have to drink or dance or anything. There’ll be games to play and other things to do. And I promise I won’t try to set you up with any guys. You can just sit around and talk with the girls or—oh! Kath told me about this girl, Melissa. She’ll be there. I think you’d like her. She’s really into biology and stuff.”

I kept my face carefully blank, glancing around my room to hide how hard I worked to avoid laughing. If only she knew. When I finally composed myself, I moved on to my next excuse and said, “I don’t know her. Or this… Kath.”

“You do so know Kath! She’s the one whose boyfriend cheated on her with Danielle Fuls. Remember? From chemistry? When they had that fight in the hall outside class?” She tossed her head. “Plus, Dean’ll be there.”

“Uh…” I frowned at the non-sequitur. “Isn’t he hosting?”

“Well, yeah,” Vicky said. “But what I meant was, it’s not like you won’t know anyone there. You’ll have me and Dean, and I think Carlos or Dennis or one of those guys will be coming, too. But, Ames, you’ll never make any friends if you don’t talk to people. People you don’t already know inside and out. So, like, people who aren’t me.”

That’s a little patronising, Vicky, I thought. But of course, I didn’t say it out loud. She was right. Not that it really mattered—the thought was dispelled the moment she smiled.

“Pretty please with a cherry on top?” she said, voice growing more earnest. Painfully so. “I think this could be really, really good for you, sis.”

I paused, but my resistance crumbled, drawing a sigh from my throat. I just wasn’t cut out for saying no. Not to her. “Will you be drinking?”

“Of course!” Vicky said, jumping to her feet with a grin. She knew I’d caved, and I hadn’t even said it yet. She could sense it. “But you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Nobody does. Believe it or not, you’re not the only teen who practices abstinence.”

I chuckled, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. Abstinence was too strong a word. And either way, I didn’t expect that attitude to last the night.

“So you’ll come, then?”

“Yes, Vicky,” I said, giving her a patient smile. “I’ll come.”

“Awesome!” she said, grabbing my arm and pulling me to my feet as if I only weighed two pounds. Super strength. I felt a moment of the usual jealousy—her power was way cooler than mine—but that turned to dread when I noticed the mischievous twist to her lips. “Now let’s pick out something nice. I’m gonna make you look your best tonight, or I’ll die trying.”

I already regretted this decision.

—————————————————

And I only regretted it more once things got started.

Dean was out front when we landed on the lawn, greeting guests. He was dressed casually, in store-faded jeans and a lame t-shirt with a stupid pun on it. “Vicky!” he said, holding out his arms. She put me down and they hugged, exchanging cheek-kisses. My self-control had been refined to a T over the years seeing this, but I was glad they restrained themselves to just the cheek. I might have vomited if they’d started making out again. “You made it.”

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

“Yep,” Victoria said, then grabbed my shoulders and pulled me forward. “Sorry I’m late, but I brought a plus one!”

“So I see,” Dean said, turning to me.

I raised my hands to cover my body as he looked me up and down. There wasn’t any actual perversion there, but I wasn’t naturally comfortable in dresses, even in private. My hands accomplished little though; my body was a little too big for them. So I was left shuffling in place, probably looking as awkward as I felt. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Dean said, meeting my eyes—ever the courteous one—and smiling his usual smile. The kind of smile you just wanted to punch off his stupid face. Or maybe that was just me. “You look nice.”

“Thanks,” I said, barely able to keep the disgust from my voice. He frowned, a minuscule furrowing of his brow. He’d probably noticed the fluctuation in my emotions, and now wondered what he’d said wrong. I immediately berated myself. He was just trying to be nice. Even if he was clearly lying, there was no need to be a bitch about it. “Vicky picked it out,” I added lamely, gesturing in her direction. She’d no doubt be happy to take charge for a bit. I was already exhausted of being social.

“Yup,” my sister chirped, planting fists on hips. “It was the tamest thing in my closet. She vetoed everything else—including heels.”

Tame, my ass. As if the amount of leg and arm it showed wasn’t enough, the dress was a little too tight for my tastes, hugged my skin too closely. I couldn’t help but think it emphasised my worst features. For instance, my power kept my healthy, but it didn’t keep me fit, and bulges and flabby bits were pretty damn noticeable in tight clothing. Victoria had assured me it was fine, that I looked good, but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe her.

Wearing this thing was another one of those impulsive, instant-regret decisions I only ever made to see her smile. The only part of the dress I really liked was that it was hers. I could almost imagine her smell pervading the fabric, keeping me company. Keeping me safe. As stupid as that was. Especially since it had been washed thoroughly since the last time it had adorned her skin—whenever that was. I’d never actually seen her wearing it before, but she had a lot of clothes.

A cur pulled up at the curb, receiving a glance from Dean. “Well,” he said, smiling at us, “I’ve got to greet everyone else. You’re welcome to stay out here if you’d like, but if not…” He pointed back to his house. The building was already almost shaking with the noise. “…there’s food and drink in the kitchen, and the rec room is stocked with cards and board games. You know where the bathroom is. And you can stay the night if you’d like; I’ve got a pair of spare rooms upstairs set aside for the both of you.”

Victoria snorted and leaned into his body, curling up against him. He put a hand on her back—a little too low for my tastes—and she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him fully, on the lips. I looked away. “You really think I’ll be using your spare room tonight?” she purred, her voice husky and perfect, and a little too loud—I doubted she meant for me to hear that.

I ignored the implication, and tried to picture what it’d be like if she were saying that to me. Doing that to me. It was a nice image. For a moment. Then I heard them kiss again, and it was gone.

Vicky grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the house with her, waving back at Dean. Crossing the threshold was like stepping into another world, where shitty techno music was the go–to choice for ambience and wearing clothes two sizes too small was considered acceptable.

My sister snaked through the sizeable crowd that had already gathered, dragging me behind her. She moved with purpose, though she couldn’t possibly know who was here already or where they were. We stopped in the kitchen. Vicky released my hand and hugged a girl from behind, yelling, “Surprise!”

The girl shrieked. I tried not to feel jealous about the hug and how it must feel; Vicky hugged me all the time. I wasn’t entirely successful. “Vicky!” the girl groaned, turning in my sister’s arms while the people around her laughed. “I told you not to do that!”

“Sorry,” Vicky said with a grin that belied her sincerity. “I couldn’t resist.” She pulled me forward, into the limelight. “This is my sister, Amy. She’s a first-timer.”

The three others around us gave names and waved hellos, then Vicky swept them up into her storm, and their conversation bowed to her wants. She tried to include me, but the scene shifted faster than the weather. People left to find their other friends, and new people interrupted constantly, until we were surrounded by an entirely different group, despite having not moved an inch. And I knew none of their names.

Vicky introduced me to some of her friends, like Katherine and Georgia and Renee and James, but they followed the same pattern. They would say something polite to me, then talk with Victoria until a distraction arose or they found something else to do.

The girl Vicky had told me about earlier was dragged over to join us at one point. Meghan or Miley or Melissa or something starting with M. She actually talked to me, not Vicky. But she just asked questions about my powers, getting me to touch her or other people and describe how parts of the body felt to me. She annoyed me. She seemed to catch on after a while, and started trying to talk about other things, but we clearly didn’t have a lot in common, and she left soon after.

Some time during our conversation, Vicky had left me alone too, probably gone off to chatter and gossip with some of her girlfriends. Or girl friends, rather, emphasis on the space. My sister was straight as an arrow and just as oblivious. I’d tested extensively. That is to say, I’d filled the ‘recommended content’ sections of her favourite social media sites with pictures of scantily clad girls, by looking at pictures of said girls whenever she left herself logged in—which was all the time.

… It may not have been the most conclusive of tests. After all, it had yielded no discernible result, nothing visible to the human eye or to my touch. Not arousal or attraction, and not even suspicion about why her feeds were filled with so many bikini models. Just plain old interest in the bikinis.

And she’d probably be interested in them even if they weren’t being worn by beautiful women. So my machinations probably hadn’t affected anything. Not that it mattered either way. Even if it had awoken something, Vicky’s sudden discovery of her probably-non-existent lesbian side wouldn’t really solve anything for me. She’d still be disgusted if she knew.

I shook my head, dismissing the worthless thoughts. With nothing better to do, and no clue where my sister had gone, I wandered about Dean’s house, observing the party-goers as they moved and interacted with a detached sense of boredom.

Raucous laughter filled one corner of the lounge room—where the couches had been pushed back to the wall, leaving a big empty area in which people could mingle—and whispering gossip-girls another, while angry shouts and shoves erupted from a third. But all of it was drowned out by the mind-numbing thumping of the music, playing off one of those little speaker sets someone had plugged their phone into and turned up too high.

I couldn’t stand it. So I went outside and found a seat in the garden, a nice smooth rock. It was a little better out here; but only a little. I could still hear the music, and there were still other people around. One trio shared cigarettes by the porch and chatted about inane bullshit like the latest episode of some TV show I’d never seen, and how some dumbass pop star had knocked up his girlfriend while high on cocaine. I tuned them out.

Elsewhere, a couple sat beneath a tree on the lawn. They seemed to be playing cards, though I couldn’t make out the game from my rock. One girl lay alone, supine on the grass, making snow-angels—or she would have been if there was any snow, instead of just grass. Was she drunk already, or on drugs? Or was she just a straight-up weirdo?

A car pulled up at the curb. A skinny girl exited the passenger side, a similar-looking man getting out of the driver’s. Her father? They talked for a minute, the girl growing visibly annoyed.

“Taylor!”

I turned. The voice belonged to a new girl who’d just came out from the house. She laughed-slash-squealed and hurried over to the skinny girl’s car. I couldn’t hear what else they said—not that I was particularly interested—but their conversation ended when the man got back into his car and left. The pretty girl pulled the skinny one with her into the house, off to join everyone else. The skinny girl didn’t look very happy at the prospect. I didn’t blame her; this whole thing wasn’t as fun as it was supposed to be.

I picked up a pebble, turning it in my hands, inspecting the little imperfections on its surface, running my fingers along its smooth contours. I put it back down, then picked up another; a brown one. I traced the edges with my thumb. There was something soothing about pebbles, beyond the fact that I could touch them without getting flooded with information.

I was still getting that information, from the bacteria that surrounded me everywhere I went, from the ant that had come with the pebble, and from the fly that had just landed on my ankle. I’d learned to tune that out long ago, but it was still nice to touch things that didn’t require that acclimatisation. And I mean actually touch with meaning; not just touch in the everyday sense, like the clothes I wore or the floor I walked on.

“Shit,” someone said from behind me. I turned and managed to jump back in time to avoid the messy, projectile vomit of a wobbly-legged teen as he sprayed the garden. When he was finished, he wiped his mouth and glanced at me. “My bad,” he said before collapsing in his own mess.

Another boy stared at me with wide eyes. “Dude,” he said, nudging his friend with a foot without looking. His friend groaned. “I think you just threw up onPanacea.”

I restrained my sigh. “It’s okay,” I lied, patting down my dress. It looked clean, and it felt it too. Both in the conventional sense and in my… more unique sense. “He didn’t get any on me, I think.” I squatted down and poked the vomit boy’s neck with one finger. He groaned again.

He was fine. Nothing he needed me for. All the same, I gave him a minor fix-up and broke down what I could of the remaining vomit in his oesophagus, redistributing the nutrients through his body. I wasn’t sure why. Habit, maybe. It just felt like something I should do.

“I’m really sorry,” his friend said. “He, uh, went a little overboard on the free pizza. He’s a bit of a cheapskate.”

I stood and brushed off my knees, even though they weren’t dirty in any way. “I told you, it’s okay. And he’ll be fine. Just get him some water.”

“Water. Right!” With that, the guy turned and hurried back into the house, quickly gone from sight.

I glanced at his friend. He’d started laughing with wheezy breaths. Or maybe he was crying; it was hard to tell. I allowed myself a sigh and headed inside.

—————————————————

I drifted. Through the house, through the party, through the people. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do the same. I didn’t know anyone here, and Victoria hadn’t kept her promise. I hadn’t really expected her to, but her… abandonment… Well, it just kind of drove the point home: there was no place for me here.

I wanted to leave, to go home. But at the same time, I didn’t. I may not have belonged here, but most days it felt like I didn’t belong there, either.

In much the same way, I wanted to see Victoria, but I also didn’t. I had a good idea what I’d find. And I didn’t want to see that, to confront it again now, no matter how many times I’d seen it before.

Everything blurred together. A haze of boredom and disinterest overwhelmed me. Faces faded, sounds were drowned out by nothingness.

I found myself with a group of people I didn’t know, all of us just standing around in a hallway. I had no idea how I had arrived there. My hands held a plastic cup containing cola. It was full almost to the brim. In however long I’d been holding it, I’d not taken a drink. I didn’t feel the thirst.

The people around me talked amongst themselves. Laughter was frequent. I stood and listened. They switched between topics at the drop of a hat. I remembered Victoria’s advice—I couldn’t make friends without speaking to people.

So I tried. But most of the time, I had nothing to contribute.

Occasionally a topic arose that I did have something to say about, but they all moved on to the next before I could find the right words. And on those rare occasions when I did manage to get a few words out, it was at the same time someone else spoke—someone with a louder voice and more charisma than me—and I was drowned out. Even the girls on their phones were more active participants in the conversation than I was.

It was frustrating. I soon stopped trying.

The guy beside me bumped my arm, spilling cola onto my shoes—but thankfully not on Victoria’s dress. I shook my foot out, grumbling under my breath. He didn’t notice any of it. Nor did anyone else.

I’d had enough of this. It just wasn’t working. I wasn’t clever enough or outgoing enough or fun enough or whatever it is that makes people like you, and I didn’t have the patience or stubbornness to get past it via pure will. This just wasn’t me.

I withdrew without comment, and set out to find somewhere off the beaten path. Everyone here moved around in groups. If I found somewhere solitary to sit, somewhere I could be alone, I wouldn’t be bothered.

Unless someone decided—without Victoria’s prodding at every corner—to hit on me. That would be an interesting change of pace. But it would also never happen. Of all the people here, no sane girl—or guy, I suppose—would pick me to hit on. Unless they were cape junkies, but… they’d probably just be intimidated. After all, I’d often been described as standoffish in Victoria’s celebrity gossip mags.

I spotted a small, two-seater sofa in a corner of the lounge room—unoccupied. It looked comfy. I headed for it, going around the edges of the room and skirting the makeshift dance floor. The crowd had thinned out somewhat as people had grown hungry or horny and went to find food or a secluded spot in which to violate each other’s mouths.

I reached the sofa… just as another girl arrived from the other direction. We stopped short, looking at each other. She looked vaguely familiar—not surprising, since she probably went to Arcadia.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted to sit there on my own, but I couldn’t exactly tell her to fuck off. Even if that wasn’t a plain shitty thing to do, Carol would kill me. We were always meant to appear charitable and friendly. So…

I smiled at her as best I could. I was never great at smiling, but I’d had lessons, so I could manage in a pinch.

“You take it,” we said in unison.

Silence.

Okay, not silence. There was a party going on around us. But neither of us two spoke or moved for a long while.

“Seriously,” I said on auto-pilot. I wasn’t thinking about the words; they just came out of my mouth. “You take it. I can find somewhere else.”

The girl gave a lopsided smile, tilting her head a fraction. I wish I knew how to read body language, to understand what that expression meant. My power doesn’t help with that as much as you’d think. “I can’t do that,” the girl said. “Besides, you got here first.”

“No I didn’t,” I said, then thought, What the fuck, mouth?

“Take it anyway,” she said. “It’s no trouble, really.”

She turned to start walking away and, like an idiot, I grabbed her elbow. “Wait,” my bitch of a mouth said, taking matters into its own treacherous hands once again. “There’s—I mean, it’s a two-seater. So really, this whole conversation is stupid. Neither of us have to go anywhere.”

She… huffed—a minor exhalation of air from her nostrils; a sort of almost-laugh, or almost-snort—and quirked her lips. “I don’t know if arguing about a chair really counts as a conversation.”

I laughed—that’s the appropriate thing to do when someone makes a joke—but it came out as more of a nervous giggle and made me sound like a complete idiot.

The girl turned around, and my hand dropped from her arm. “You don’t mind?”

“No.” Yes. Dammit. “Not at all.”

She looked at me for a moment. It seemed like she should have been pursing her lips in thought, but her expression didn’t change at all. Finally, she shrugged and said, “Alright,” then sat on the sofa.

I sat beside her.

Neither of us said anything else.

I took a sip of my water and watched the other party-goers as they danced—badly, for the most part—in the clear space in the middle of the room and chatted in small groups around the peripherals.

The girl beside me coughed quietly into her fist. Once. But other than that, she sat weirdly still, staring out across the makeshift dance floor at nothing I could locate. The only movement I could perceive out of the corner of my eye was the slow rise and fall of her breathing.

And that was it.

Nothing happened.

…for quite a while.

My eyes were drawn toward a girl seated alone at a dining table across the room. She was pretty—from behind, at least—but that wasn’t why I noticed her. A boy had just walked up to her and tapped on the table, catching her attention. He smiled and said something. She laughed and said something back. A few more exchanged lines, a shaking of hands, and then the boy sat beside her, and they kept talking.

I remembered Vicky’s advice again, from earlier in the night. About how I’d never make friends if I never spoke to new people.

I looked at the girl seated beside me. She’d look better if she ditched the glasses, but she was pretty, in a unique sort of way. And tall. Even sitting down, I could tell she was taller than me by a good margin. She might even be taller than Vicky—provided my sister wasn’t cheating with her powers or high-heels. Vicky looked good in heels. This girl was wearing more nondescript sneakers, but actually, she’d probably look good in heels too. Long legs were good for those… or so I’ve heard.

Of course, my imagination immediately jumped to an image of Vicky making out with this girl, the both of them wearing nothing but heels. Good job, brain. You couldn’t even put me in there.

I shook my head. Point was… uh, actually, I don’t know what the point was. The girl was reasonably good looking—when compared to normal people, at least; so, people that weren’t Vicky. I could see myself talking to her. Being friends, maybe.

On the other side of the fence, if I didn’t talk to her, I could easily picture Vicky finding out somehow and admonishing me for ignoring her advice. And itwas good advice, really. Talking to her would be a great step! I just… well, saying I didn’t know how to do that would be an understatement.

I’d read like a hundred blog posts on the net about making friends, but they were all pretty much useless. “Be yourself” and “smile a lot” were the most common tidbits of advice there. But you couldn’t carry a conversation on smiling. And I certainly couldn’t carry a conversation by being myself.

Maybe… find something we had in common? That was common advice in Vicky’s magazines. They meant it more in regards to flirting, and I wasn’t really intending to flirt with this girl, but the principles should be pretty similar.

Besides, I knew we had one thing in common already.

Neither of us wanted to be here.

Yeah, I thought, taking a deep breath. I can do this. No problem.

I didn’t give my brain time to object.

“Hi,” I squeaked.

It took her a moment to realise I was speaking to her. She turned to me—a little surprised, if her expression was anything to go by. “Sorry?”

Good job, Amy. You could run for president with those speaking skills.

Trying to keep the embarrassment off my cheeks, I cleared my throat and smiled again. It made me feel sickly. “Uh, hi, I said.”

“Oh,” the girl said, then smiled after another moment’s pause. She had nice teeth. “Hi.”

Quiet settled again. I shifted in my seat. It appears hi is not, in fact, a magic word.

“I’m Amy,” I said, holding out a hand.

“Taylor,” the girl said, reaching out to shake my hand. The moment our skin touched, my power filled my head with junk. I sifted it absently, then paused as my power showed me the extra lobe in her brain. Or not-lobe. The one that parahumans had. She was—

No. Nope, nope, nope. Not going there. I shoved that little tidbit out of my mind. She was a normal person. No need to complicate matters. Especially when this was so complicated already.

The angle of our handshake was awkward—more for her than me, with the way her elbow knocked against the cushions. I felt inconsiderate. She didn’t seem to mind, but we kept the shake short, all the same.

“Nice to meet you,” she added.

“Oh,” I said, in my infinite wisdom. “Uh, yeah, nice to meet you too.” I bit my lip and cast a quick glance around the room, searching and not finding a conversation starter. It was only just occurring to me that ‘not wanting to be here’ wasn’t one. That was mistake number… I dunno, twenty-seven, maybe.

Different tactic, then. Ask her about herself. People are supposed to like that. Something about showing interest. “Do you go to Arcadia?” Dammit. Stupid question.

“Yeah,” she said, then quieted again.

Mistake number twenty-eight: asking yes-or-no questions. I needed to give her more to work with. I was just opening my mouth when she spoke again:

“It’s not as nice as I thought it’d be.”

“Arcadia? Uh… what do you mean? Did you transfer in?”

The girl—Taylor—made a face, and as inept as I was, even I could tell I’d already fucked something up. “Yeah, from Winslow,” she said. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Sorry, I didn’t—“

“No, it’s okay. Just—I mean, if we’re going to talk, I’m sure there are better topics than school.”

Quiet again. She was probably right. Not that—

“Not that I can think of any,” she added with a smile.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t even that funny, but laughter wracked me as I curled in on myself. I tried to restrain it with little success. Stopping it completely was far, far beyond me.

Years later, the tremors subsided, and I wiped tears from my eyes. Taylor sat with a little quirked grin on her face, like she was an inch away from laughing herself, though she clearly had better self-control than I did.

“Sorry,” I said, then a residual giggle interrupted me. “I didn’t mean to upset you, before. I just—”

“I told you, it’s okay,” Taylor chuckled, following it up with a quiet sigh and a moment of silence. Then, “I was bullied at Winslow. Just a little, nothing… serious. But I always kinda thought that stuff wouldn’t happen at Arcadia, you know?”

I frowned. “Has someone—“

“No, no-one’s bothered me. But I’ve seen it happening to other people, and it’s just… disappointing.”

I quieted. I hadn’t seen anything like that, let alone been a target. Not since middle school, at least. But… I was Victoria Dallon’s sister, and everyoneknew it. Hurting me was a sure-fire way to piss her off. And she could fly and bench-press trucks, so pretty much everyone wanted to stay on her good side.

“Sorry again,” I said, feeling a sudden surge of honesty, a desire to reciprocate. My secrets were a little more… damaging, so I didn’t have much to share, but… “I’m not very good at this,” I found myself saying. “Talking to people, I mean.”

Taylor glanced my way and quirked another smile. “Neither am I,” she said. “I usually wind up with people who do all the talking for me.”

“Exactly!”

Taylor blinked. I did too, realising I’d jumped forward with my exclamation, invading her personal space more than a little bit. Right in her face, really.

I jerked back, reining in my blush just as sharply. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Taylor said, brushing rich, curly hair behind an ear. “You just surprised me.”

“Still, sorry. So, uh…” I fumbled for something else to say, and jumped on the first thing that came to mind, as vapid as it was. “What do you think of the whole party thing? I don’t get it, myself.”

“Neither do I.” She paused to sigh. “Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m here. I wasn’t planning on coming. I don’t even think I was invited. Tonight was meant to be…” She shook her head and glanced at me. “Do you know who the host is? Because I have no idea. And I’ve been here for forty minutes.”

I chuckled politely. “That’s Dean. Dean Stansfield. He’s my sister’s boyfriend. He probably invited me, but I’m only here because she begged me to come.” I gestured down at my body. “This dress is hers. She… coerced me into it. It looks a lot better on her.”

“Well, I, uh… I think it looks good on you,” Taylor said, then smiled wryly. “Though I’ll admit, I don’t know much about fashion.”

I blushed, like an idiot. She wasn’t hitting on me, just giving me a compliment. There was nothing special about that. “Thanks,” I said, surprising myself when I realised I actually meant it. For some reason—maybe because she gave the compliment the same way I would have, had our positions been reversed—I trusted Taylor’s awkward sincerity. More than I’d trust any compliment from Dean or any of Vicky’s friends, or even from Vicky herself. I mean, Vicky’s compliments definitely made me feel like blushing more, but that was for different reasons entirely.

“Dean Stansfield, you said? The name sounds familiar, at least. I’m going to assume he’s rich.”

“Yeah. If your stereotypical rich kid and your stereotypical nice guy had a kid together, that kid would be Dean Stansfield. Don’t worry about not having an invite, by the way. I doubt half of these people do.” I nodded toward the throng mingling on the dance floor, waiting out the momentary respite between song changes. “It’s more of an ‘invite your friends’ kind of thing. Or a ‘just show up on the doorstep with beer’ kind of thing, I guess.” What are you talking about, Amy? Shut up.

“Mm.” She turned back to watch the dancers as the next song began.

Fuck, I thought. Why can’t I do this? Even the nerdiest kids at school can make friends; why can’t I?

Then it hit me. A way to engage this girl, and take some of the pressure off me—and her—to keep conversation going with nothing to focus on. Maybe a way to even have a little fun myself. God knows I could use it.

“Hey, Taylor?” I said. She looked at me. “Uh… when I got here, Dean was out front, greeting people. He said they had a bunch of games laid out in the rec room. Like, board games, I think.”

She nodded.

“Anyway, I was wondering if you… uh, if you’d want to go have a look with me? It’s probably a lot quieter there, too. Less people. We could just…” I floundered, my hands flopping out of the air as I aborted my useless gestures. “…you know, see if there’s anything good to play?”

Taylor blinked, but said nothing. Then she smiled, rich and wide. “Sure,” she said, standing and patting her jeans off. “That sounds like fun.”

Fuck. Yes.

—————————————————

I bit my lip as Taylor rolled the dice. They seemed to bounce across the board in slow motion, spin on their corners for an eternity. But eventually they came to a stop.

Two sixes.

I threw my cards to the ground and groaned as dramatically as I could manage. Taylor fell onto her back, clutching her stomach as she laughed her ass off.

“How do you do that every time?” I said.

Taylor rolled over, still giggling, and moved her piece to the finish line. One tile ahead of me. She shrugged—a weird movement for someone lying on their stomach. “Pure skill.”

I huffed. “You could at least try to be modest.”

A grin split her cheeks as she gathered the dice up into her hands. “There’s a trick to it. You have to promise them things. For instance, this little guy—“ she held up one die between her fingers “—is twenty grand in debt to a real piece-of-work loan shark. And I figured I could pay that off with my winnings from our last game, if he gave me a good roll in exchange.”

“Right, right, I understand completely now. The secret to victory is paying everyone else off.”

“How dare you?” she said, giving me a scandalised look and patting the dice protectively. “At least call it bribery. It sounds so much classier.”

I snorted—by accident, mind you—and stood to stretch. There was a few seconds of silence, but it wasn’t awkward anymore. More… companionable.

“You wanna play that one again?” Taylor said. She glanced over to the stack of game boxes, built like a pyramid, with the biggest at the bottom. “Or we could dive into one of those. Preferably not one of the monsters.”

“Something new, I think,” I said, then sighed in relief as the joints in my back and shoulders popped. “You can pick something out. I need a toilet break.” I moved to leave but stopped at the door, giving her a semi-stern look over my shoulder. “Nothing with dice.”

Taylor laughed. “Nothing with dice,” she agreed, and turned back to the boxes.

—————————————————

I barely noticed how the next person in line nodded to me as I exited the bathroom; I just started down the hall, zigzagging absentmindedly between the scattered cliques. My mind was focused elsewhere: on Taylor. Because… I was actually enjoying myself. I was having fun. With someone who, until less than two hours ago, I’d never met before in my life.

And best of all, she was having fun too! Because of me! She was enjoying my company in a way very few people ever had.

I was making a friend, all by myself.

An immense sensation of pride bubbled up inside me. A pitiful thing for a seventeen-year-old girl to be proud of, maybe, but this was a big milestone for me. Every last person in my social circle was Victoria’s friend, not mine. That seems completely impossible, right? I thought so too, until I realised I was living it. The hospital staff were the sole exception, but the less said about them the better.

I hoped Victoria would be proud of me too, when she found out what I’d accomplished tonight. She’d wanted me to do this, and I had. Oh, I could just imagine how her face would look when I invited my friend to sit with us for lunch. Though Vicky could get pretty over-protective, and I wouldn’t want to risk her scaring Taylor away this early, so… maybe I’d better leave the formal introduction for later.

Something materialised in front of me and I stopped short, physically and mentally. The hallway I’d used earlier was blocked by a big group of muscular guys wearing football jerseys. I’d almost walked right into them. No way was I going to push my way through a bunch of gym nuts. I turned and headed the long way round, intending to cut through the second living room.

My eyes swept the room as I walked. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by actually running into something. Almost every square inch was furnished with beanbags and comfy-looking chairs and couches. I kept to the edges of the room, away from the game of poker in the center area.

That proved to be a mistake.

I ended up with a direct line of sight to a makeshift alcove in the corner of the room, hidden away from most people’s sight. Within was the beanbag my sister was seated upon. Or more accurately, the beanbag Dean was seated upon, with Vicky in his lap. They exchanged sloppy, noisy kisses and appreciative moans. There was an unusual bulge beneath Vicky’s shirt—a lump that moved around her chest region, contracting and expanding like it was squeezing something. His hand.

I froze. For whatever cruel twist of fate, I couldn’t look away. I wanted to desperately, but I couldn’t.

As I watched, Vicky gasped. Then she giggled and curled further into him, doubling down on her kisses. I saw another movement between their bodies. Near her crotch. Beneath her clothes.

Then I realised I couldn’t see his other hand.

That broke the spell. I snapped my head around and rushed out of the room. Before, I’d thought I’d throw up if I had to see them doing something intimate again. I was wrong. This felt worse. So much worse. The idea of it was one thing. The reality was another.

I dashed about the house, looking for someplace private before I lost it. A fit of desperation sent me to a linen closet, and I squeezed into the space between the shelves and the door, barely big enough for a person.

Then I pulled the door shut, dropped to my knees, and cried.

—————————————————

It felt like hours before I emerged, my brain belatedly reminding me that Taylor was waiting for me. I had trouble making myself care. My elation, my pride, my happiness—everything Taylor’s company had birthed? It was all gone. Like a candle flame, snuffed out by the cold winds of reality.

But I managed to muster up a dredge of determination. I’d started to build the foundation of a friendship with her tonight, and I couldn’t just throw that effort away because I was in love with someone I could never have. Because I was pathetic. I had to go back in there and smile and keep Taylor laughing and enjoying herself. Because if I didn’t, she’d have no reason to be my friend. And I needed a friend.

I wasn’t convinced I could pull it off. But I was going to try anyway. I had to salvage something from this misguided expedition. Provided she was even still there.

I walked to the kitchen, keeping my head down, and stopped by the sink. I stared into my reflection in the pristine steel basin. My eyes were a little red, but they weren’t as bad as I’d expected. All the same, I gave my face a quick wash of water and squared my shoulders. Time to go back.

The bottles on the counter caught my attention as I turned to leave. The rows upon rows of drinks of every variety, most brought by the guests. The two kegs mounted on the dining table. All that alcohol. And so much of it as yet untouched.

I looked around, at the other party-goers. Every person I saw—even the dancers—held a cup or bottle in their hands, sipping from it intermittently. Alcohol was everywhere.

I’d never had any. Not once. Not even when uncle Neil had offered to secret us a few sips of champagne on thanksgiving, years ago, though Victoria and Crystal and Eric had all leapt at the chance. I’d seen what alcohol could do to people. Inside and out. I could fix other people, but not myself, and I had no desire to ruin my liver that way.

But… that kind of damage came from long-term abuse, not one-time affairs. And there had to be a reason so many people partook. I’d always wanted to know why. Apparently it was something nobody could explain properly, even on the boundless expanses of the internet.

Fuck it.

I grabbed the biggest bottle and a pair of cups, then made my way back to the rec room.

Taylor was still there. But a new group of people had showed up and started playing Monopoly in another corner. Well. There went any hope of privacy.

I moved to sit across from Taylor. She looked up from the little instruction booklet she was reading for one of the games. “You okay?” she said.

I paused. I’d expected her to comment on my tardiness, or maybe jump right into the next game, not… that. The excuse I’d constructed to keep things lively crumbled, as did my fake smile, despite my best efforts. “Yeah,” I finally said. “No. I don’t know. Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine.” I sighed. “Sorry I took so long.”

“That’s okay,” she said, and waved the booklet at me as I poured myself a cup of whatever I’d grabbed. “I’ve been reading this thing. It’s got lots of little story bits in between all the rules. It’s pretty cool. What’s that?”

It took me a moment to register her question. “I don’t know. Something alcoholic. I just grabbed it at random.” I threw her the extra cup. “Want to try it with me?”

“I dunno. I’ve never drank before. Excluding sips of my dad’s beer, anyways.”

“I’ve never tried any of it. But I think now’s the perfect time to dip my toes in the proverbial river.” I nodded at the Monopoly players. “They’re all drinking. Seems to be working for them. Besides, I doubt I’ll get the chance again, after tonight. This is the first party I’ve been to since sixth grade, and probably the last.” I turned back to Taylor and sloshed the bottle around. “You don’t have to.”

Taylor bit her lip. I thought she’d refuse, but then she snatched the bottle from my hands and filled her cup.

Was that peer pressure? I couldn’t tell. I didn’t care enough to try and work it out.

We took a long drink in sync. I emptied half my cup. The alcohol—whatever it was—did weird, tingly things to my throat and stomach. And it tasted indescribably awful, but that suited me perfectly.

I coughed. “Shit.”

Taylor coughed too, brows shooting up as her eyes widened comically. “Yeah.”

The Monopoly players exploded into laughter, making me jump and nearly spill the rest of my cup on Taylor’s chosen game box. I glared around at them, and Taylor glanced over her shoulder. I leaned closer to her and said, “How long have they been in here?”

“Ten or fifteen minutes, I think,” she said. “And before you ask, yeah, they’ve been pretty consistent as far as loudness goes.”

Two of the players started arguing over a trade deal. I made a face. I was about ready to walk over and tell them to turn it down a notch when I remembered something. “I have a room here.”

Taylor looked at me. “What?”

“A spare room. I was told one had been, uh, reserved for me, so it’s probably empty.” I threw another glance at the Monopoly players, now giving a drum roll for someone who had landed on a chance tile. “Want to go check it out?”

She nodded and we gathered up our crap, along with a pair of the smaller games, and made our way upstairs. A piece of paper was taped to one door in a hallway, reading “Amy.” I assumed that was referring to me.

I pushed the door open and poked my head into the darkness. Empty. I fumbled at the wall for the light switch, but Taylor moved past me and found it with ease. The room wasn’t large, but it had an ensuite bathroom, and it was well-furnished with a little TV opposite a large double bed and an ornate wooden dresser. The bed looked very soft. I wanted to flop on it and just go to sleep, ignore everything else. But I’d never manage that. I had enough trouble sleeping under normal circumstances.

Taylor sat cross-legged on the rug and popped one of her games open, then looked at me expectantly. I downed the rest of my cup and joined her.

—————————————————

Out of some misshapen desire to spice the game up a little, we added an additional rule: take a drink whenever you lost money.

Perhaps not the smartest idea, seeing as we lost money a lot. And neither of us had a great alcohol tolerance; Taylor being skinny and me being short. But we persisted. Turns out we can both be more than a little competitive.

It got to the point where I started missing minutes. As if I’d passed out for a while, but my body had kept playing and talking and moving on its own. I would come to in the middle of a turn, half-way around the board with a dozen new cards to use and no idea how I got there. Then I’d blank out again, and come to Taylor laughing and hiccuping over something that had happened, but I wouldn’t know what.

Once, I found myself dancing. Soulful music blared from a speaker set on the bedside cabinet, and Taylor stumbled ungracefully along with me. We were both belting out the lyrics in our horrible, horrible singing voices and fumbling or missing half the words. We were loud enough that they could probably hear us downstairs. But I didn’t care, and neither did she.

The song ended on a long, high note that neither of us could hit. We tried anyway, and it left us breathless and giggling at the way our voices cracked, grasping at each other’s arms for support. Then the next song came on. It was slower, gentler. Taylor swayed in time with the music, and I swayed too, not just because our hands were still joined.

One of us took the opportunity to move our hands up into a more conventional formation; hers on my hips, mine on her shoulders. I couldn’t tell who had done it, and I didn’t mind. It was nice. But the music made me want to cry. I put my head on her chest and closed my eyes. She hummed along as we danced together.

—————————————————

The next time I came to, the two of us were sat at the foot of the bed and surrounded by pillows and cushions built in the shape of a fort, with a sheet suspended over our heads by some cleverly constructed pillars. I was pretty sure there hadn’t been enough pillows in the room for this.

But as extensive as our creation was, there still wasn’t much space. So we squeezed close to each other, leaning in to keep our heads from hitting our makeshift ceiling. The bottle of alcohol sat between us, only half empty.

Taylor was talking, her speech halting and slurred. I tried to focus. “…don’t know why. She was just diff’rent, y’know? ‘nd then she started being really mean to me. Said bad stuff ‘bout my m-mom and my dad and called me names and stuff. ‘nd her new friend push’d me over lots and tripped me and ruin’d my school work all the time and…” Her face contorted, and she leaned into me as she started crying. “She was my best friend.”

I hugged her tight. “I’ve never had a best friend,” I said, my voice cracking halfway through the second word. I felt like crying again too, but I kept it at bay. “Y’know, my sister, she’s the ‘nly one who cares ‘bout me. My mom hates me. But m-my sister’s a-always there. I…”

I swallowed past a lump in my throat and said something I never thought I’d say. “I love her. I-I mean, not like a sister, but like I want her to be my girlfriend, so we can kiss and sleep together and I can see her naked more and stuff and I don’t—I can’t—I h-hate it! It’s disgusting and gross and everyone’d hate me if they found out and she’d hate me too and my mom’d hate me even more and they’d lock me up and send me to hell or something I don’t know and I’m so scared that I’ll—that I’ll—“

Taylor pushed me over and shook her head furiously into my chest. She looked up at me, her cheeks still wet. “N-no!” she said, rolling off me and crawling up alongside me. It was a tight fit. “You’re not gross! You’re nice and cool and good and nice and not gross or anything, so don’t say that, okay? I like you.”

I stared at her. “You—I-I want to have s-sex with my sister,” I said, my words thick enough that I could barely understand them myself. “Y-you don’t think that’s gross?”

She shook her head again, crawling up further until our heads were in line and we could look each other in the eye properly. My vision was blurry. She hugged me, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. “S’okay,” she sobbed into my shoulder. “I d’nt care. S’okay. There’s n’thing wrong with you. S’okay.”

I couldn’t hold it any more. I cried. We both cried, long past what would be sensible. It formed a self-fulfilling loop of tears and sympathy. There exists some magical link between crying girls; a law that says you can’t sit there and watch someone cry without feeling it yourself. So when one of us finally cried herself out, we’d see the other still going, and then it would start all over again.

But we had a limited supply of tears. Eventually we were reduced to sniffling into each other’s hair. With the release came an almost-clarity, and I realised how close we were, physically.

We lay with our bodies pressed together, our arms wrapped around each other the way a drowning man would clutch at a log. The sheet ceiling of our pillow fort had collapsed onto us, constricting our movement. Our legs were tangled; her jeans felt coarse against my skin. I could feel and hear every minute movement she made, from her breathing and sniffling to how her fingers brushed against my back.

This was making me self-conscious. But I didn’t dare move away. The drowning man analogy was apt. It was stupid, but the thought of moving terrified me. She was my anchor, keeping me from getting washed away in self-pity and self-loathing. And beyond that… not even Vicky had ever held me so tightly. It was impossibly comforting. I relished in the closeness.

Somehow I shifted an inch closer, relieving a discomfort in my back I hadn’t realised was there. Taylor froze. Even her breathing stopped. I froze too, holding position for a moment while my courage built. Then I tilted my head up.

Our eyes met.

Hers were red and bloodshot, the passage of tears evident in the wet streaks that ran down her cheeks. We stared into each other’s eyes for what felt like an eternity. But neither of us said a word, or made a sound.

Then I kissed her.

I couldn’t explain why. A petty part of my mind said Vicky was off enjoying herself and I should get back at her however I could, and another part of me said the best way to get over her was to find someone else, but… both were wrong. I kissed Taylor because I wanted to. Because it just felt right in a way beyond words, as cliche as that may be. Though that may be the alcohol talking.

Whatever the reason, I let my desire pour out of me and, through our connection, into her as we kissed over and over and over and over. Our bodies pressed together even tighter, if that were possible. We moaned into each other as I sated a need I’d never acknowledged.

If I could have changed both our bodies to not require oxygen, I would have done it, to allow us to kiss for longer. Regrettably, I could not, so we were forced apart often by a mutual need for breath. But I made sure those breaks were not long-lasting. Each time I pulled back her eyes grew increasingly glazed and droopy, and drool began to splatter her cheeks and mine.

She mumbled my name into our kiss more than once. At some point her hands moved to my neck, where her thumbs traced my jaw gently. Her glasses bumped against my face, slowly getting pushed up over her head. I was surprised to find my own hands at her waist, unzipping her jeans with spectacular imprecision. I pulled them off. She shimmied and wiggled to facilitate their removal. I kicked them away, sending our ceiling-sheet with them and leaving Taylor’s naked legs fully in the light, where they entwined with my own bare legs. Her skin was soft and warm.

Her hoodie and top were more annoying to deal with. I had to bring them up over her head, forcing her hands from my skin and my mouth from hers. A part of me wished I could just tear through them and not suffer the interruption, but I didn’t have Victoria’s power, and—No. Don’t think about her. Not now. I rushed through the undressing, not savouring it at all. I wasn’t in that kind of mood.

After she was down to her underwear, I let my hands wander. For a moment. Then I moved on to my dress. The zipper was awkward to reach, situated in the middle of my back. But I managed it, and slid the dress from my shoulders. I threw it to the side without breaking our kiss.

Then went my underwear. And hers. She shuddered when I pulled her panties off. My fingers may have lingered longer than they strictly needed to. I tried to kiss my way down her neck, but it was awkward, pushed up against the bed and surrounded by pillows as we were.

I grabbed her hand and stood. She stumbled to her feet, catching herself on me to keep from falling. I felt her nipples brushing my skin before she pulled away. My eyes followed.

“Whoa!” she said. I looked up. Her eyes were wide as she stared down at my body. “You’re naked!” My cheeks coloured, then Taylor looked down at herself. “I’m naked!”

I giggled, leaning up against her again. I wrapped my arms around her neck and kissed her, going onto my tippy-toes. She kissed back after only a moment’s pause. With stumbling steps, I attempted to guide us onto the bed, but my eyes were closed and my sense of direction was shit. We bumped into a dresser, then into the bedside cabinet, jostling the lamp and alarm clock, before ending up against the wall, flesh pressed against flesh.

Her hands came down to my hips slowly, hesitantly. My skin prickled at the touch. I grabbed her butt—to which she said, “Eep!”—and pulled her toward the bed. We bumped the cabinet again. The alarm clock fell and hit my ankle, and I hissed in pain even as we reached the bed and collapsed sideways. My foot wound up kicking the lamp off too. But I didn’t hear anything break, and I couldn’t afford the distraction as Taylor turned aggressive.

She rolled on top of me, kneeling over my stomach, and bent down to pepper me with short, pleasing kisses that made me forget the pain in my foot. Our mouths would meet, then she would pull away just far enough and say my name in a breathy voice that only made me wetter, and then she’d be back again, sharing saliva. I got swept up in her rhythm, and soon I was panting her name every other time she pulled away.

I brought my legs up and enjoyed with her body with my hands. One slid up her ribs and played with her nipples while the other made gentle, tentative probing movements at her pussy, soft and wet and fever-hot. She shuddered and gasped against me, bringing a grin to my lips. This was good for my self-confidence. When I started fingering her properly she collapsed on top of me, legs splayed and quaking, unable to maintain her barrage of kisses.

I took up the slack. We rolled over again, this time with me on top. I kissed down her neck to suckle at a nipple and kept playing with her pussy. She wrapped her arms and legs around me, gasping and whimpering and crying my name. Yeah, this was fucking great for my confidence. Taylor’s hands pulled me away from her chest and into a deep kiss as her hips spasmed against my fingers. When we broke apart she splayed out flat, panting hard, the bed-sheet twisted into knots beneath her hands.

Did she just… I pushed her further up the bed and held her legs up, leaning down to inspect my handiwork. Her pussy glistened with wetness, further juices splattering her thighs and running down her butt. Holy shit, she came. I did that? Holy shit. I bent down further and gave her pussy a long lick from bottom to top, tasting her most intimate flavour.

I should have waited for her sensitivity to normalise. Her legs jerked closed reflexively and her shin smacked into the side of my head. Hard. I rolled to the side with a groan and massaged my temples. Taylor crawled up alongside me a minute later. “Are you alright?” she said, dropping her head to my chest.

I ran a hand through her hair and nodded slowly. “I’m fine.”

Taylor smiled, and opened her mouth to speak, but then her eyes locked onto my breasts, watching as they rose and fell with my breathing. Her gaze flickered back up to me for a moment, then she brought her hands up to play with my meagre boobs, squishing and squeezing and rolling them in circles and pinching at my nipples. I groaned again, this time in a good way. Taylor’s smile became a grin. “What should I do?” she said before latching her teeth around one of my nipples and tweaking it with her tongue.

“Whuh?”

Taylor released my nipple with a pop, but she didn’t stop playing with my breasts. “How do I do you? I don’t really know how this works for girls. Just fingers?”

“Um, co—aah, stop please.” Her hands stopped. I bit my lip, a little afraid to ask what I wanted to ask. “C-could you lick me?”

“Down there?” Taylor glanced down at my crotch. “Uh, I can try, I guess.” She slid down as I closed my eyes. I felt hands pushing my legs apart, and spread them despite my embarrassment. I covered my face with my hands.

I felt her fingers prodding at my pussy, circling it gently. Her breath on my skin, cool against the wetness. I shivered. Her fingers pried me apart gently, then I felt a hesitant tongue push its way inside, warm and rough. I gave an appreciative moan, and she twisted it inside me, pushing deeper before curling upward. Then she withdrew from me. I waited, but nothing else came.

“Um,” I said, opening my eyes. Taylor was facing away from me, her eyes squeezed tight as she held a hand to her mouth and took deep, slow breaths. “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. Another deep breath, then she swallowed and turned back to me part-way. “Sorry,” she said through her hand. “I don’t think I can do that. I don’t want to throw up on you.”

Dismay pummelled me. Did I taste that bad?

“I don’t think—ugh, yeah, those drinks aren’t sitting right with me.”

Oh. Okay. Thank fuck. “That’s alright,” I said, dropping my head back down to hide my disappointment.

She crawled up to lie beside me, putting her arms around me and running her fingers across my belly. It tickled. My hand moved to her hip. “Sorry.”

I shook my head against hers. Then a thought occurred to me. “I could prob’ly clear it up for you,” I said. “The alcohol.”

She blinked at me. “How?”

“Flush your… uh, your thingy. The place where drinks go. Put it in your bloodstream or whatever. I think my powers can do that.”

“Powers?”

I sat up and looked at her. “Uh, yeah, powers. I’m Panacea.”

She blinked again. “Shit. Amy Dallon, duh. I did not put that together.”

I stared at her for a long moment, then collapsed in laughter. I heard her start laughing too, but I could only clutch at her shoulders helplessly. One of the few still-functioning parts of my brain tried to tell me this was great, a confirmation that she liked me for me—not for Panacea or her powers—but I didn’t have the sense of mind to listen.

I wiped tears from my eyes once I calmed down, lying with my body pressed against hers. She cleared her throat. “Can you do that to yourself?” she said.

“Do what? The alcohol thing?” She nodded. “Nope. My powers don’t work on myself.”

“Then don’t do it to me. I’m not gonna let you be the only drunk one.”

That was kinda stupid, and disappointing: she couldn’t give me oral now. But it was oddly sweet too. I snuggled up closer.

“Is there something else I could do for you?”

I thought about it. She could always just use her fingers. It’s not like I was an oral elitist or anything. But—oh. Maybe… “I’ve watched a lot of lesbian porn.”

“Good to know.”

I flushed. “I mean, they use toys a lot, like vibrators and dildos. And strap-on ones. That could be fun.”

“Do we have any of those?”

“Um… probably not. But I could, uh… I could make one on you. Like a strap-on but… y’know, part of you, so you could feel it.”

She was quiet for a moment. “You mean, like, grow me a penis?”

“I guess,” I said, shifting in place. Maybe it was a weird thing to want, but I couldn’t count how many times I’d gotten off to the image of Victoria pounding me into the ground. I didn’t understand why, but it was seriously hot.

“That sounds weird.”

I flushed. Of course, I shouldn’t have—

“How long would it last?”

Uh… “Just for a bit. I can get rid of it after.”

Quiet again. “Could you make my boobs bigger?”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. “Uh, yeah.” I focused my power on her, checked her body for extraneous fat. “Probably not at the same time though.”

“Can you do that first?” she said, sitting up and pulling me with her. “Just for a minute?”

I nodded. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but she seemed willing, and experimenting could be fun. I converted unneeded fat from her belly and thighs, moving it all to her chest—enough to make her noticeably thinner, but not endanger her in any way. Her breasts swelled and grew from AA-cups to small C’s.

Taylor squealed like a schoolgirl and jumped on me, giving me an almost bone-crushing hug and making me squawk. Her breasts bounced around distractingly, and squished into my face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she said. “This is so cool.” She pulled back and grinned down at me, bringing her hands up to cup her new breasts. “Want to play with them?”

Her smile was infectious, and quieted my impatience. I reached out to juggle her boobs. She laughed; it was probably a new feeling for her. I scooted closer to appreciate my handiwork in detail. Strategic squeezes and nipple tweaks and kisses had her moaning and writhing beneath me. I grinned around a mouthful as an idea hit me.

I reached out with my power and tweaked the sensitivity of her breasts. Then I ran my tongue around her nipple. She shrieked and jumped, her fingernails digging into my back as the shriek became a drawn-out, shaky moan. I teased both nipples at once and she whimpered, lifting off the bed to wrap herself around me completely. I couldn’t support her weight, and we fell back to the sheets together.

Her breath came in short gasps. It was immensely arousing in a way that’s hard to explain. My impatience peaked, and my hand moved of its own accord, down to finger my own pussy. I reset her sensitivity—I wasn’t feeling generous enough to give her two orgasms without any in return. “Can we do the next bit?” I said as I squirmed. “I can’t wait much longer.”

Taylor sat up and shook her head, eyes blinking into focus. She wiped a bit of drool from her chin. “Can I have the boobs again later?”

I nodded. I had to admit, they were pretty fun to play with. “Anytime you want.”

She grinned. “Go ahead,” she said and spread her legs for me, revealing a sopping wetness. I wanted to eat her out too, but that could wait for later. Ineeded to get off now. At this point, it wouldn’t take much, but some animalistic part of my mind wanted her inside me. Properly.

So I moved the extra mass from her chest to her crotch and gave her a penis, trying to mimic the internal design from biology textbooks and my somewhat hazy recollections of the men I’ve touched. Extra skin formed to cover the mass that extended outward, using her clitoris as a base. I converted an ovary into a pair of testes but excluded the scrotum, instead leaving them inside with a tweak to keep them from getting too hot.

On a whim, I added ridges and thin, fake veins to the sides. They must put those on sex toys for a reason, after all. I left the urinary tract where it was and made it permanently erect; she wouldn’t have it long enough for such things to matter. I made a few finishing touches, then sat back to see how I’d done.

Whoa, okay, I thought. That is not right. Not even close.

I spent a minute or two tweaking and correcting errors until I was satisfied. It looked right, and it should feel and perform right too. I was very pleased with myself. Another weird thing to be proud of.

“It looks kinda small,” Taylor said, staring down at it.

“I can tweak that once I’m comfortable,” I said. “I don’t wanna start with something too big.”

Taylor nodded, flashing a grin at me. “You’re smart.” I flushed. Taylor poked at her new appendage. “It’s kinda embarrassing, though. How do we do this?”

“Uh…” I shuffled over and moved her legs a bit, then kneeled over her hips. I wrapped my arms around her neck and met her eyes. She had nice eyes. “Ready?”

She nodded. I reached down to ensure things were angled correctly, then lowered myself onto her. It slid right in. Easy peasy. Maybe it was a little small… A simple tweak and it tripled in length, pushing right up into my very core. Taylor went a little cross-eyed. “Whoa,” she said. “That felt weird.”

“Yeah,” I said, fighting to breathe. That was a little too big for me. Incredibly uncomfortable, and more than a little painful. I shrunk it a bit and kept tweaking until I found the perfect size for me, but even then I had to wait a few minutes for the pain to fade to a manageable level. “Okay. I think we’re good now.”

Taylor nodded again, and I started moving up and down slowly. It was a weird feeling, but a pleasant one. With each thrust I got more used to it, and it began to feel good. Really good. She went so deep into me I half thought she was about to hit something important. She didn’t, but she did hit spots in me I hadn’t known existed. One such spot made me squeak and jump enough to fall onto my back, but Taylor followed me down. She wore a grimace of concentration on her face.

“Whus is?” I said. Apparently I couldn’t speak properly.

“You feel really good,” she said, somehow understanding me. Her voice was strained. “I don’t know how to… It’s really hot and slippery and… tight. Crazy tight. I’m trying not to come.”

A blush reddened my cheeks again. I circled her neck and pulled her in for a kiss. “You don’t have to do that,” I breathed into her ear. “You can come whenever.” She pulled back. Our eyes met. “Now fu—“ Oh, dammit. You chicken out there? Say it. “Now fuck me, Taylor.”

She did as I asked. She started thrusting into me herself, building up speed, power, until the bed shook beneath us. She was breathing hard, and so was I. Fleshy slaps and wet squelches filled the air as she entered me again and again, driving me past the point of coherent thought.

All I could hear were our moans and grunts and the noise of sex. All I could smell was her. All I could feel was her. To say the world fell away except for the two of us would not be inaccurate. My eyes locked on hers, unable to look away. Not that I wanted to. I pulled her down for more kisses, and then all I could taste was her too. She continued to pound into me, each thrust drawing me closer to the edge of orgasm.

Her expression grew more strained, teeth grit and brow furrowed. She brought a hand down to my pussy, our connection, and teased my clit. My legs tightened involuntarily around her hips, my fingers dug into her shoulders hard enough to draw blood. She did it again and my mind abandoned me.

The pleasure overwhelmed me. Fire ran in my veins. I moaned; she panted. I writhed and bucked against her, desperate as I was for that release. Then she hit the magic spot again, and I came around her with a wail, biting down on her shoulder in some futile attempt to quiet it. She cried out too as she climaxed, her hot cum shooting deep inside me. Both our bodies shuddered from head to toe, and even after the orgasm itself had passed, my legs continued to twitch and shiver.

Taylor collapsed on top of me, eyes bleary. She gave a lazy grin as one hand found mine, fingers intertwining. “That was amazing,” she sighed. I grabbed her for another kiss. She moaned appreciatively and nuzzled my neck. “And… exhausting…”

I opened my eyes. Taylor’s were closed, her breathing slow and quiet, her exhalations tickling my skin. She was still inside me. But I didn’t have the energy to move my own body, much less hers. And my brain wasn’t working well enough to remove what I’d grown on her.

I felt strange in that quiet aftermath. Almost as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, something ethereal and heavy. I found myself crying for no reason I could comprehend, but it wasn’t a bad cry. I let it run its course.

When I was done, my eyes felt droopy. I didn’t have a pillow or a sheet, but… I really didn’t want to move.

Fuck it. None of that mattered, not now. I had everything I needed right here.

I turned and snuggled into Taylor’s arms. Sleep took me swiftly.

For once, I dreamed good dreams.