“Oh yuck.” Sydney crinkled her nose. “I didn’t think that movie could have been worse, but that’s worse.”
Camille smiled a little as Sydney talked, but addressed me, “You made it sound like this was embarrassing for you. Was it? Come on, you can tell us.”
“OK. My grandpa told me what it did when I was twelve, and I tried it on my family’s cat. I mean, who was going to notice? We’d already had him neutered. Except there were a few things I didn’t know. One thing was that the genes that make a cat’s fur a particular color show themselves differently in each gender, so his fur started to change color. He’s normally orange, but female cats aren’t generally orange—”
Haley asked, “What color did he turn into?” She used the same, slightly disbelieving voice she used when asking things like how many days in a row I’d worn a pair of jeans.
“I don’t know. I think there might have been some brown. Anyway, I didn’t notice right away because it takes a little while for fur to grow out. That matters because of the other thing I didn’t know. The person’s normal shape starts trying to reassert itself immediately, and you get back to normal somewhere between three months and a year. I haven’t looked into why it works that way…
“Anyhow, by the time I noticed the new colors starting to show, my mom also noticed, and took him to the vet.”
“Oh, no,” Haley muttered.
“Yeah, it was a mess. The vet noticed that his… uh…” Balls? No. Nutsack? Definitely not. “… testicles were growing back. However it works, things get put back the way they’re supposed to be, not the way they’ve been changed to. The vet freaked out. He’d just removed them a year ago, and he remembered doing it. He called people, took pictures, and he was going to write a paper on it. He actually asked my mom if he could neuter the cat again to find out if everything would grow back a second time. Daniel’s dad or grandfather ended up editing memories of everyone involved. It was horrible.”
Haley raised an eyebrow. “Is that why the cat hates you?”
“There may have been a couple other experiments. Nothing that hurt him. Just stuff he didn’t like.”
Sydney made a face. “What kind of experiments?”
Oh great. Now I was a cat torturer.
“Nothing bad,” I began, and then Vaughn interrupted me from the closer to the screen.
“Hey everybody, I’m starting the next movie. It’s James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause.’”
Cassie, sitting next to Jaclyn and Travis, said, “That movie’s really old.”
“Yeah,” Vaughn said, “but I see it mentioned all over. It’s one of those classic teen rebellion movies, you know?”
“It’s from 1950 what?” Cassie still didn’t sound interested.
“Oh come on,” Travis said, “let’s get on with it. It can’t be any worse than some of the other movies we’ve watched. Look, we watched Titanic.”
Haley frowned. “What’s wrong with Titanic?”
Travis shrugged. “What’s not? It’s not bad if your ideal guy is someone too dumb to save both of you.”
Daniel, who was grabbing pizza off the table, said, “Not to mention the historical inaccuracies.”
“Oh, let’s not go into that again,” Rachel said. She’d sat down next to Lucas, Shannon, Julie, and Jaclyn.
“Exactly,” Jaclyn said. “We all get to choose. I’m sure you’ll like something next week.”
Cassie didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t argue any more. Vaughn dimmed the lights and started the movie.
* * *
By the time the movie ended, it was after midnight. Almost everybody left in small groups, still talking to each other.
A few of us stayed to clean up and shut everything down—Vaughn, Jaclyn, Haley and I. Jaclyn convinced us set up a rotating schedule. I had no complaints about that because as the owner of HQ, I was the guy most likely to get stuck with the mess.
Unlike in TV shows, Jaclyn, our resident speedster, didn’t pick up everything superfast by herself. She made sure everyone did their fair share. Haley and I ended up together at the main table, picking up the pizza boxes.
Haley placed a fifth box on top of the four she’d already picked up. “How do you think it went?”
“I don’t know. Everybody seemed to have a good time.”
“I think so. I think we ought to invite them again.”
“Well… Not Sean. And if we don’t invite Sean, we can’t invite Jody or Dayton because they’ll bring him.”
“How did you manage to invite Sydney without Sean?”
“Nick, they’re barely speaking to each other. That’s why I invited her. He’s angry because she’s hanging around Camille.”
“Why? She was in Justice Fist too.”
“Because he doesn’t believe Camille’s his sister. He says she’s ruining his dad’s good name.”
“That’s messed up. All he has to do is look at them.”
“I know. His dad doesn’t have a good name. Even when Sean and I were dating, I could tell he was… with more women than just Sean’s mom.”
“Really? Did you tell anybody?”
“I didn’t want to get involved.” She bit her lip. “He idolised his dad.”
We’d made it to the kitchen while we were talking, and put the leftover pizza into the refridgerator and thrown away the empty boxes.
Jaclyn appeared in the doorway as we finished. “I think we’re done. Vaughn’s going around the room looking for leftover cups.”
“Good,” I said. “I’ll start turning out the lights—”
I didn’t get to finish my sentence. Vaughn shouted, “Hey, you’d better come out here. This looks bad.”
Jaclyn practically disappeared. Haley and I followed, joining Vaughn and Jaclyn at one of the trophy cases near the corner of the room. Made out of steel reinforced concrete, it looked sturdier than the others.
Evil Beatnik’s ring was gone, but the bulletproof glass case covering the top hadn’t been broken. Unfortunately, everything inside had been destroyed. The League had placed the melted ring in the middle of a magical circle, but where normal circles were chalk, this one was steel. Except now the circle had been melted into a circle of grey goo. So even if we recovered the ring, we didn’t have anywhere to keep it.
Vaughn turned away from the trophy case toward me. “What was in here?”
“Evil Beatnik’s ring. It shouldn’t work anymore. They melted it.”
Jaclyn peered at the mess inside the glass. “Then why’d they put it inside all this?” She gestured at the glass and concrete.
“Well, the ring’s basically him. The original League melted it so no one could put it on, but the personality’s still there, just inaccessible.”
“Maybe someone stole it,” Vaughn said.
Haley started talking almost before Vaughn stopped. “They wouldn’t do that. I was with Camille and Sydney the whole time.”
With everyone else, I wondered about Shannon, Julie, and Lucas.