Penguins Pt. 1

What a weekend. I hope everyone else’s was awesome.

Mine could have gone worse.

Do you believe me? Yeah. Me either. At least I’m not alone in this. I’ll start with Friday, before the sun went down. There was a penguin. In a box. In my room. And said penguin used to be my pervy science teacher Mr. Marco. I already posted what he’s like, but, in case you’re behind, he won the jerk lottery and is currently at the top of my ‘not sure I really care I turned him into a penguin’ list. Anyway, I don’t know how it happened. Magic isn’t supposed to work here, that simple. That was why Mom and Dad raised me and Tommy here. To keep me safe – I won’t get into what that’s about, but, trust me, it was a sensible plan.

If Mom was here, I’d ask her. I mean, she couldn’t keep cell phones. Most technology hated her. It was a family joke. She once blew up a microwave in a department store when she touched it and it wasn’t plugged in. At the time, everyone thought it was just this freak thing. Now I know where we’re from, I suspect that it has something to do with being from Eris. The magic is in the blood, right? So it wouldn’t really ever be gone. But I lived my entire life without turning a single person into a penguin. If I had been able to, Tai would definitely be on that list. So I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with the Eluna. Which is still doing that creepy glowy thing, btw. On a sidenote, I don’t really have a lot of problems with cell phones. But, half the time, I forget I even have the thing. Mom would never buy me one before, so I’m totally backward. Anyway, I digress.

So, I knew I couldn’t deal with the whole penguin thing alone. I wanted to. But my best plan was to drop him off at the zoo with a nice ‘I’m lost, please take care of me’ note on his box. Call me crazy, but that didn’t exactly seem like the best idea. The last time I did this, I was told it wasn’t permanent. I don’t know if that’s true. For all I know, the poisonous water nymph that lived close by had penguin for dinner. But just imagine turning up to feed the penguins and realizing some rando guy is in there talking about witches. Does anyone think they would bring back that whole stake thing? Cause I don’t really feel like getting barbequed. Anywho. I went to find Tai and caught him as he came upstairs.

“Tai.” I hissed down at him just as he was disappearing into his room. He paused and looked up at me. I would have preferred anger to that cold, expressionless look he gave me and it made me want to just go to my room and stay there. Like, forever. But, you know. Penguins and cardboard boxes are a grounds for the instant dismissal of petty fights over a stupid picture that, c’mon, really, wasn’t that bad, right? “I need help,” I whispered. I really didn’t want Kelly to hear. She’s like my mom. Really into that open communication thing. And something told me my newfound ability to channel my abilities here wasn’t going to be well received.

“Yeah, maybe later.” He started to go into his room. I ran down and pretty much slammed into his door before he could close it. I looked down at his arm, still wrapped in bandages and bit my lip. Did I really need him? I mean, I could clean up my own mess for once. Only… I had no idea what to do with a penguin that used to be a teacher. I’d already googled zoos and I was pretty sure none of them would let me just roll up and drop it off. And who wasn’t going to remember the girl with the weird squawking box? Worse, what if Mr. Marco changed back and remembered everything?

“I really, really need help.” I heard Kelly coming up from below and turned to smile at her.

“Oh good, you guys are making up,” she smiled. Kylie grinned at me. That kid, for reasons I’ve yet to fathom, thinks I am the best thing ever. I suspect it’s the hair. I let her do what she wants with it; it grows too fast to matter if she manages to get glue in it.

“Oh yeah, yeah, totally making up,” I said, grinning like an idiot – have I mentioned I’m a bad liar – and trying to give Tai all sorts of eyebrow signals. He looked at me like I was insane. I’m not sure he’s wrong, really. “Just standing here, talking about our teacher Mr. Prackford, and how I really, really shocked him today with my knowledge of penguins.” I gave him a really hard stare.

There is something about seeing certain knowledge dawn on someone’s face that, no matter what situation you are in, save life and death, that will lighten the mood. Or maybe I was just delirious. Because I had to fight the urge to laugh at the way his lips pressed together and his eyes got real wide. Okay, so lets go with delirious. “Oh. Oh wow,” he said. “Yeah, I bet that was a big surprise for him.” His fingers latched on to my arm and he began to push me toward the stairs. “So, why don’t we go look at the homework he gave you?”

Kelly paused at Kylie’s door. “You know, it occurs to me that most people would be a little… nervous about how much time you guys spend together alone.” She frowned at me. “Your mother would probably think we’re too loose about it.”

I couldn’t help it, I did laugh then. It was a little hysterical, but, ya know. Reasons. “Um, she did try to poison me,” Tai pointed out. “I don’t think she’s got much room to talk.”

“Well, I know, but I guess she thought she had to protect her daughter. Just tell me. Am I being a bad mother? The truth?”

Both of us kind of frowned at her, although I still had that bubble in my chest, the one that means I could, at any second, start giggling. It doesn’t happen often. But, boy, when I get to going there really isn’t any stopping me until it passes on its own. “Kelly, you’re awesome,” Tai said. I nodded along vigorously. “Sky and I are fine. Her mother might think a whole lot of things and you’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t really care. She might have had her reasons, but she also had plenty of other options.” Now is not the time to point out she could have had him beheaded or something else… medievally. Don’t ask me. I might have been born there, but I didn’t stay long enough to know what else my mother could have done to the werewolf her daughter had a crush on. He shrugged at his stepmother. “We’re best friends. We hang out. It isn’t like we’re having sex.”

Kelly blushed a little and I could not stop myself. I had to sit down on the stairs and bury my face in my hands to stop the giggles. It didn’t work. My laughter was part delirium, part relief; he still considered me his best friend. “Is something going on?” she asked and I tried to stop, I really did. But I just couldn’t. I started laughing for real. Because the other option was telling her my pervy science teacher was in my room in a cardboard box, waddling around and making confused little squawks.

“Other than Sky turning into a complete lunatic?” Tai asked. Luckily, Kylie, bless her little heart, picked that moment to do one of her extremely loud, wet things that usually means you now have to change her, yourself, and the carpet. And maybe start looking for a new house. Kelly forgot all about us and dove into the nursery with that face that said she knew it was too late. Her favorite shirt was toast. “The kid needs a new teddy bear,” Tai said, gripping my arm and pulling me to my feet. I was still laughing too hard to stand up straight. “What the hell, Sky? Stop laughing and tell me what’s going on.”

“Penguin,” I said, gasping. Oh, but there was no stopping the giggles.

“No,” he said back. “No, no, and no. Not possible.”

“Yes,” I gasped.

“You had better be playing some sort of joke,” he growled, pushing me into my room and closing the door. He grabbed the chair from my vanity and pushed it under the door handle. We’d be in trouble if Mr. Shizuka or Kelly came up, but better they think we were making out in secret than see the truth. I collapsed on the bed, now laughing so hard it was silent and tears were pouring down my cheeks. I pointed at the box.

Tai approached it as if he was afraid it might explode, kneeled down and looked back at me. “If this is for real, it isn’t funny.” I shook my head and just motioned at him to open it. Which he did. He looked down into the box with what I can describe only as the face of resignation. The my best friend is a witch who turns people into penguins on accident face. He looked up at me. “Who is it?”

“Marco,” I gasped.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Jesus Christ, Sky.”

I pulled my pillow to me and buried my face, nearly shrieking, now. “Squawk,” said the box.

“Shut up,” said Tai.

“Squawk!” the box said a little louder.

Tai shoved the flaps back together and stood up, coming toward me. Finally, I was able to get the laughter to back off a little. I peered up at him, trying to stifle the remaining giggles. He sat down beside me. “Are you sure this was you?”

“Pretty – pretty sure,” I said, taking a deep breath and giggling a little again.

“You’re positive. Like, nobody else could have been standing down the hallway? No other witches from your mother could have been around?”

I shook my head and, finally, I stopped laughing. I scrubbed at the tears running down my cheeks. “Dead world, remember?”

“And yet there are werewolves in the park and a penguin in a box,” he said.

I don’t know what it was. Maybe the look on his face that said we were still not really okay. But all the laughter dried up at once. “There was no-one else.”

“Well, maybe you just didn’t see them or -”

“We were alone in his classroom,” I said, cutting him off. “The door was shut.” My fingers seized on the pillow hard enough my knuckles cracked. “He, um, kept me after. Cause I was rude to him. And he said something really, really -” My throat closed up and my eyes started to burn. “When I tried to get past him, he grabbed me and, and I don’t know what happened. I pushed him away and poof. It just went right through me and turned him into that.” I held up my hands, palms up to show him. I wasn’t really burnt, like, bad, but the skin was red and stung like I’d grabbed a too hot pan without oven mitts. I dropped them back into my lap.

I stared down at the pillow. I couldn’t look at him; I felt like a freak, true enough, but it was more than that. I felt ashamed. As if it was somehow my fault he’d said those things or put his hand where it didn’t belong. I realized later how wrong that was, but, at that moment, it just felt like I’d somehow been asking for it by being all salty to him. I was afraid to look at Tai because I was afraid he would be mad at me and that would just make it so much worse. “He grabbed you?” When he did finally speak, it was exactly what I was afraid of. He was pissed. Tai a little angry is one thing. Tai in a rage is another. The last time I heard him sound like that, it was when he was waving a knife at me. I looked up at him.

Tai’s eyes are dark green when he’s human. As a wolf, they are lighter, a green-gold color that has this weird shine, like the eyes of a wild animal. And I was startled to see his eyes had gone pale and glowy, like they do when he is about to change. But the sun was still up and would be for another hour or so.

“Hey,” I said. “Hey, it’s alright. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, I should have just handled this alone.” I started to get up, to get the chair out of the way, maybe, or just to go get in between him and Mr. Marco because, really. He was a penguin. It’s not like he could have fought back. I’m not real sure why I cared except that it seemed wrong, something Tai would regret later.

He caught me, curled one hand behind my head, leaned in, resting his forehead against mine, and closed his eyes. He started to take deep breaths. I stayed still and remembered.
The guy in the alley hadn’t seen Tai when he grabbed me. I hadn’t seen him. I’d finished my Saturday shift at the Bijou and was paying too much attention to my phone on the way to Lucky’s. Most of the time, I really do forget I have the thing, but, when I’m talking to Jo-Anne, I can get wrapped up. The guy had reached out of the alley and dragged me in, like he had been waiting. Tai had been sneaking up behind me, watching me text Jo-Anne, and saw everything. I didn’t know he could change during the day. He didn’t either. But, since then, he’s had a few close calls.

Tai’s temper is mostly under control, now. He works hard on it because it made him do crazy stuff in the past and he doesn’t want to be that guy anymore. This was just one more reason for him to continue doing meditations and all that, I guess, but it was a little unnerving when I saw him change right there in an alley in broad daylight; mostly I’d just learned to roll with his condition. If he could forgive me for being a weird, non-princess from a fairytale world, I could accept that he grew a fur coat every night. But to see it try and come out in the daytime made me worry. What if, one day, he changed and just never changed back? I loved his wolf side. But I loved Tai’s human side more.
Finally, he opened his eyes again and they were the usual dark green. “What, exactly, did he do?” he asked in that way too careful voice.

“Uh uh,” I said. I stood up and went to the box. “Look, I shouldn’t have put this on you. I’ll go with my original plan and drop him off at the zoo or something.”

“In the lion enclosure, I hope,” he said. I turned and looked at him.

“I’m not going to kill him. It’s -”

“If you say fine, I’m seriously going to eat that jackass for dinner,” he said. His voice was calm, but it was clear, now that he was involved, there was no getting him to leave it alone.

“He’s a bird,” I said. “Not even a really awesome bird like a hawk. He’s fat and waddles and all he can say is squawk.”

“Squawk!” exclaimed the box.

“Shut up or you’re puppy chow,” I told it and looked back up at Tai. “My big thing is what if he doesn’t turn back? And how did it even happen?”

“And my big thing is he better hope he stays a penguin.”

I made a face at him. “Oh or what? You’re going to beat him up? Tai, you can’t go around pummeling everyone who is mean to me or looks at me wrong.”

“Did he grab you or not?” he asked.

I thought about lying. But that isn’t my forte, as I’ve said before. “Yeah, okay. He grabbed me.” I did not say it was fine because it wasn’t. I could still feel his fingers. I crossed my arms over my chest. “I’ll tell Mr. Pratchet. If he changes back into a man, he won’t be an employed man. Okay? But you aren’t going to do anything to him. I will not see you giving up everything just to give him a black eye.”

“Oh, I wasn’t planning on leaving the eyes.”

I glared at him. “That’s a bad joke.”

“Who says it’s a joke. He’s the perfect size for a meal, right now.” He sauntered over and kneeled down. I didn’t stop him because now he really was joking; he gets this wicked little gleam in his eye, even if his face is perfectly serious. He pulled the top of the box open.

“Squawk,” the penguin said to him in a really sad little tone and looked down at itself.

“Well, that’s what happens when you don’t keep your hands off other people,” he told it. “You aren’t getting any sympathy from me, buddy.”

“Squawk,” the penguin said as if trying to argue.

“What was the zoo plan?”

“Leave him where they would find them with a nice ‘please adopt me’ letter on his box.”

Tai made a funny coughing noise. When I looked up, I saw he was trying not to laugh.

“Great. When we’re done, lets head over to Mr. Simon’s. He is determined to flunk me in Calculus. We get rid of the teachers and the zoo gets free penguins. Win win.”

I giggled a little, then bit my lip. “I’m sorry,” I said.

His face grew serious again. “For?”

“Everything,” I said and motioned at his arm. “For that. For overreacting about the picture.” I swallowed hard. “I want you to be happy. If Meg makes you happy, then I want you to be with Meg. I’ll try to be friends with her, if she’ll let me.”

“Good,” he said and reached out to squeeze my hand. “I did yell at her for the picture. I think she was a little threatened by you, that’s all. I told her there is nothing to be worried about, that we’re just really good friends.”

“Well that’s great, then,” I said, trying to sound like I meant it. I smiled at him. Yeah. Real great.

I’ve lost track of time. I can hear Meg downstairs and I’m not even dressed yet. It’s Audry Hepburn week at the Bijou. This evening is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Tai, as far as she knows, is at work in some garage across town.

Yeah, I haven’t gotten to that part yet. Meg and I are friends now. Maybe not best friends. But good friends. That part of the story has to wait, but trust. It isn’t just because of Tai. I’ll just say that, when somebody comes riding up to rescue you, you don’t get to keep on hating them. The thing is, she’s actually pretty great. She does come off a little stuck up at first and putting that picture up on Facebook was not her best moment – she’s said that and apologized – but she’s funny and smart and kind of a badass. So we’ve just decided to let it go and move on. The thing is, she was threatened by me. She saw the way we are together, and she started thinking it wasn’t really as innocent as he said. We’ve had a whole, long talk about it. She apologized, I apologized, we cried, Tai decided to vacate the room. It was awesome. Anyway. What’s not to like about a girl who keeps her pepper spray in a cute panda case and can execute a perfect roundhouse kick?

Laters!

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