Grand Ridge Academy - Night
The grasp of sleep was about to completely consume Penny when the knock came upon her door. She grumbled underneath her breath, turned over in the bed, and pushed a pillow down on her head. Her night shift of patrolling the halls for any wannabe Scotts had been entirely uneventful, and the thought of actually getting some real sleep—not whatever coma bullshit escaping the Glutton had put her in—had been quite appealing. For a second she thought her ruse of pretending to be asleep had worked, and then there was another knock. And another. Penny threw her pillow off of her and rolled over so that she could sit up. Whoever was outside her door must be desperate, because only a desperate person or someone with a deathwish would try and ruin her beauty sleep. She slipped into a pair of pajama pants, flicked on a lamp, and stomped over to the door.
“What!?” she barked as she threw the door wide open. Rita stood there, her fist raised up to knock once again. The mousy girl stepped back, an apology already forming on her lips as Penny sighed and dragged her inside. She had promised the other girl a talk. She had only figured it wouldn’t have been in the dead of night.
“Sorry to bother you,” said Rita as Penny closed the door behind her with a slam. She looked around the room. For someone who obviously put so much effort into her appearance, it was quite the mess. Piles of clothes haphazardly thrown this way and that covered damn near every free surface that wasn’t taken up with untouched school books. The handful of posters on the wall gave the impression that the room belonged to someone who had picked up a few Greatest Hits albums of commercial punk bands without ever skimming deeper into the genre, and the few burnt up pieces of incense couldn’t hide the stale stench of cigarette smoke that would blow back in through the bathroom window when Penny didn’t feel like taking the walk outside.
“Trust me. If it had been anyone else, they would be,” said Penny, sitting down on her bed. She gestured to her desk chair for Rita to take it. As the other girl sat down, she spoke again, “So, we’re alone now. What the hell did you want?”
Rita shuffled in her seat and didn’t look up at Penny.
“You’re not gonna confess your feelings to me, are you?” asked Penny. “I’m flattered, but I’m not really into that sort of thing. And this ain’t the time for that kind of shit anyway.”
“N-no!” said Rita. “I-I-I-I—”
“It was a joke,” said Penny. “Although judging by your reaction…”
“It’s not that!”
“No shit. So since it’s not you embarassing the ever living piss out of yourself, why don’t you just sack up and say it?”
“I don’t know if I really can,” said Rita. “It’s just...I don’t understand you quite yet. You act all standoffish and like you’re better than everyone else, but whenever something crazy happens you always jump right in with no hesitation. It’s weird.” She pulled her sleeve up over her hand, and then looked directly at Penny. “If you don’t like everyone, then why are you helping them?”
“Because it’s the right fucking thing to do,” said Penny. “So you would help me if I was in danger?”
“I already have. I wouldn’t stop now.” Penny blinked. Her head felt funny. What was going on? She glared at Rita. “What’s with this fucking interrogation?”
“I have to know if I can trust you,” said Rita. ”If someone in the group was trying to harm one of us, would you stop them?”
“Yes,” said Penny, and then she shook her head. “Rita, is—”“Do you completely trust me?”
The question hung in the air for a second, and then Penny crossed her arms, “Not entirely.”
The stony mask of zero emotion that hung on Rita’s face cracked as she choked back her words. She broke eye contact with Penny and looked at her knees. This had been a stupid idea. Even if Penny had trusted her, it wasn’t as if she would take the word of what amounted to little more than an unfortunate acquaintance over her brother. She rubbed her face and stood up, ready to bolt for the door. She was stopped by Penny grabbing her other arm.
“Wait. Clearly there is something wrong that you want to tell me. If you want to be a little bitch about it and runaway, fine. I mean, no, not fine. It’s too late for that. You already got my attention. So I might not take your word as gospel. Shocker. You’re lumped in with everyone else. Fortunately for you, there is another way.” Penny let go of Rita’s arm and sat back on her bed, and then she gestured at the empty air between them. “Show me.”
Rita stared into nothing for a moment, “How?”
Penny paused. “I don’t know,” she said. “But let’s figure it out.”
Grand Ridge Academy - Morning
Another night, another trippy vision about the cute bug girl’s dad as a child. Billy was thankful that he hadn’t taken any psych classes, otherwise his inner Freud would’ve been having a coke-fueled field day of psychoanalysis. He didn’t have any dorm of his own since he stayed at home, but due to the events of the past few months there were more than a handful of empty rooms in which he could crash. And crash he did, but only after a pleasant raid of the school’s cafe and a hot shower. Weird vision aside, the sleep was kind of nice once he discounted that fact he was sleeping in some other dude’s bed.
Of course, not having a fresh set of clothes was kind of a bummer, but one Febreze bath later and he smelled like canned mountain spring. He just hoped that they weren’t going to be going to build a snowman that day, since cargo shorts and a thin hoodie weren’t much to protect against the blizzard. In fact, he kind of hoped that they weren’t going to be doing anything today. Maybe they should just roll with what the Speaker had said, what with his whole one love schtick as if he was Bob Marley. Honestly, it was a pretty crazy idea, but then again fighting against a world-eating son-of-a-bitch was also totally nuts.
Billy made his way down to the lobby. He figured he’d find some way to stay in the school while the rest of the Justice Friends went off to Mt. Doom, but if he didn’t make an appearance his sister would tear apart the school looking for him. Speaking of which, she was already down in the lobby dressed to go, a red peacoat folded up to act as a cushion as she sat on the windowsill next to the mousy girl, whose sweater finally seemed reasonable. Both of them had coffee and the tired look in their eyes of a college student after an all-nighter of studying. Penny caught Billy’s eye and then leaned over to Rita to whisper something in her ear before beckoning him over to them. Billy was hesitant as he approached; that Rita girl had always been weird, and she had been even weirder ever since they awoke in the hospital.
“You gonna bolt again, dude?” he said to Rita as Penny handed him a cup of coffee.
“Sorry about that. You just startled me,” said Rita, staring at the rim of her cup.
“I would if I saw your lanky ass lumbering around, Lurch,” said Penny.
“Seriously, by the way you were acting I was beginning to think you had a crush on me or something,” said Billy, ignoring Penny.
“W-w-why does your family think I’m into them?” asked Rita.
“I don’t know, our parents were too supportive so it inflated our self worth. Now will you two shut up,” said Penny as Britney entered the room, “there’s gonna be another fucking civil war.” Paige soon joined the others in the lobby and commented on how she understood, although did not condone, Britney’s lie of omission. Penny raised an eyebrow. All things considered, everyone normally was screaming within the first second.
“I think we can all agree that we understand where Britney was coming from and think her decisions were almost all entirely dogshit,” said Penny, nodding as if she had just said something sagely. “I’m curious about this guardian thing. Does taking an Abstraction kill the person or something, or is it just easier to rip it off of a corpse?”
“And if we gave it away, what happens?” added Rita quietly.