Crystal's StorySite storysite.org
Testing a Theory
by Joe Six-Pack
Meeting the man was like chugging Nyquil. It was the way he droned. It was the gray suit. It was the sleepy eyes. It was everything about him. You'd meet him and you couldnŐt operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day.
The 'get to know me' meeting was now into it's third hour, and the roomful of disgruntled employees were all chafing at their collective bits. On the big-screen TV at the front of the room was Dr. Jim Dunney, previously known as the President's famed appointee to head the latest "education initiative." Dr. Dunney had now been talking for over 140 minutes, and would not stop.
Dr. Dunney was greeting his new employees for the first time with the closed-circuit speech to all of the giant multinational company. He was here to take over as CEO of Lan-Cor Global, for which all the collected, chafing employees were currently employed. Lan-Cor had been in terrible trouble lately, losing money left and right. The previous CEO had sensibly taken his golden parachute and bailed months ago, leaving an aimless, moribund company that was starting to look like it was doomed for failure.
That was why Dr. Dunney had been brought on board, to save the company from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and get the company back in the black. This high-powered Washington insider could be the answer everyone had been looking for. Wall Street had greeted the news enthusiastically, sending company stock up for the first time in five months. It was certainly a positive sign. Unfortunately, the employees were not nearly as enthusiastic.
The rumor was that the fabulous Dr. Dunney had been abruptly dismissed as the head of the President's education initiative due to questionable, unconventional and totally unrealistic suggestions to help bring up the scores of the nation's schoolchildren in the National Standards Test. Of course there was no hard evidence of any problems with Dr. Dunney's leadership, but the scuttlebutt on the Sunday TV political talk shows was convincing enough.
Aside from that, the employees of Lan-Cor had another reason for doubt. Dr. Dunney himself had been a lifelong educator and school administrator, and this was his first foray into the private sector. It was a huge question mark. What exactly were this man's qualifications? Still, against their better instincts, most the employees had bitten their tongue, hoping for the best. But every one of them knew that their future was now in the hands of an inexperienced bureaucrat with the charisma of peat moss.
Mark was thinking seriously about gnawing through his arm if he could just get out of here. Why was this happening? Moment by moment, he was losing faith in a merciful God. Angry God - the only explanation.
Mark Parnell had been only working for Lan-Cor for a little over a year, but when he had accepted the job, he had thought it would be for life. Indeed, he had literally banked on it. Now he found himself in a situation by which if he was without a job even for a month, he would surely be living on the streets and eating in soup kitchens. Mark had a lot riding on the success of Dr. Dunney. He didn't like the idea of being a derelict before he had even turned 31, and knew that he was far too old to move back in with his folks. Mark should have been excited and rapt with attention during this speech.
Instead, Mark was checking his wrist for a pulse. He was going to need electric paddles to his chest if Dr. Dunney kept going on like this. He whispered to the guy next to him: "Are there EMTs standing by?" They guy chuckled.
At home and in bed, Mark was in a nice dream about popsicles and the Swedish Bikini Team when he was tossed back into life with a phone call from Edwyn Gretzalynik, his department head. Fortunately, Mark also knew him as "Gretz", a good friend since he had moved to Colorado three years ago.
It was important. Mark had to come in to work right away. He bumbled his way through an abbreviated grooming session and fell into in his sedan. He eventually found the right gear and headed for the office. The dark, empty streets of Edenwood at four AM gave him a lot of time to think, but all Mark could muster up was a recollection of melting ice cream and sun tan oil. He wished could remember the rest of it.
The offices were modest, a relatively small part of Lan-Cor. This "little" division was in charge of in-house training. They managed the hundred or so Lan-Cor training programs around the world. And there were thousands of different subjects to instruct, from machinery usage to brain surgery. It was Mark's job to troubleshoot the instructional programs that need a tune-up. Which was all of them, if you asked Mark.
Here he worked with about six hundred or so fellow coordinators, administrators and office workers. They were based outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado in a small company-built town called Edenwood. It was a sterile place, every building freshly constructed and brand-new. The city was built for efficiency and not for aesthetics, making the people who lived here feel indifferent to the town, like temporary visitors just passing through.
The town seemed oceans away from the rest of the outside world. Sometimes they felt isolated even from Lan-Cor, as the main headquarters was way out in Virginia. But in the current situation with the company, the isolation meant relative peace and quiet compared to the bloodletting back east.
Gretz was already there when he arrived, looking twice as bad as Mark felt.
"Mark." Gretz croaked. "Sorry. I really am."
"Yeah." Mark agreed. "What's the deal?"
"Man. It's a mess." Gretz shook his head. "We've got a problem in Santa Luca."
"The petrochemical plant?" Mark asked.
"No, no. It's the medical technology training facility."
"The what?" Mark quizzed.
"The place where we train our lab techs."
"Oh. Santa Luca."
"What I said." Gretz clarified.
The two men were obviously fighting through hours and hours of lost sleep. That either could understand english is a testament to the recuperative powers of the human brain.
After a very long pause that probably indicated that one or both men had actually dozed off from a moment, Mark had another question.
"So what's the problem?"
"With what?" Gretz said, popping his eyes open.
"The Petro... With Santa Luca."
"God. What a mess." Gretz repeated. "We've got this facility full of trainees down there and no one's in charge."
"And?" Mark prompted. What did this have to do with him?
"Yeah. The real problem." Gretz leaned back in his chair. "Three weeks ago, Dr. Dunney presents a whole new business plan for the company to follow. New divisions, new heads of departments and new objectives for everyone."
Gretz sat up in his chair and placed his feet as if he were about to stand, but then decided he wasn't up to the task. "Anyway, we've got heads of departments and managers crying bloody murder. None of them like the changes. Some think the directives are practically insane. And now they're quitting. We've lost dozens if not hundreds of our most talented people."
"Then why are we still here?" Mark tried to joke.
"Hah." Gretz rolled his eyes. "I don't want to think about it." He looked genuinely troubled about the answer to that question. But he continued. "The long and short of it is that Ken Meyers, the head of training at Santa Luca has resigned. And we need somebody down there right away."
"Not me." Mark said.
"No. Of course not." Gretz said. "Of course YOU - why else would you be here?"
"Oh come on, Gretz. Not me." Mark whined.
"It's a cream puff job, Mark. Sunny Mexico, beautiful beaches. The job will be just keeping a seat warm for a few weeks until we can find a permanent replacement."
"I can't leave now." Mark insisted. "I've got..." Mark searched his head for any real reason to not go. There really wasn't a single thing to keep him from taking the job. "I can't go."
Gretz slid a ticket across the desk at Mark. "You leave in an hour. Aisle seat."
"I can't go, Gretz. I just can't. Not now." Mark said, getting up from his chair and leaving.
"See you in a few." Gretz said to Mark's back. "Send me a card."
"But I can't go." Mark said to himself as he left the building, fishing for his car keys. "I can't go."
Well, good old Gretz was right. Mexico was beautiful and it did Mark a world of good. He felt relaxed and at ease for the first time in a long time. He had spent three carefree weeks down south and had enough free time to develop the perfect tan to show off back in Colorado.
He had delighted in reading the e-mails he received from Gretz. The entire Edenwood division was going through it's own training program, learning the new intranet and database system along with a billion or so new rules in office procedure, hiring practices, employee evaluation and everything under the sun. Total tedium. All Mark could do was send Gretz e-mails prodding him about the sunny Mexican weather.
Of course, it eventually had to end. As Mark peered out the window of the airplane as it passed over the frosted mountains of the rockies, he tried to get himself back into the mindset of work by thinking of things that made him angry and nervous. He needed to tighten up before he arrived back in Edenwood.
"Mr. George Hamilton!" Mark's secretary gushed as Mark entered his office door. "Why, what are you doing here, Mr. Hamilton?"
Mark greeted his secretary with a stern, but good-natured look.
"Oh no. It couldn't be. Is that you Mark? Mark Parnell? Is that you boss? I mean with the tan, it's hard to tell!" The secretary continued.
"Hi Amanda." Mark said through the thick sarcasm that pervaded the room. "How are things going here?" Mark dumped a small stack of folders on Amanda's desk.
Amanda was older than Mark, a woman in her early thirties. She was taking a second shot at life after a nasty divorce. She had no children, so she decided to get back into the workforce. Now, she had been an 'executive assistant' for two years at Lan-Cor, and was working hard for a promotion into management. All the time Mark had known her, she was a no-nonsense and productive employee.
"Things are fine." Amanda answered, putting a bottle of nail polish on her desk away. "Tell me all about Mexico! I've always wanted to go!"
"Oh, it was okay, if you like that tropical paradise sort of thing." Mark strolled into his office where he disposed of his briefcase and jacket. Amanda followed him in, excited to hear a story about the trip. She was unusually peppy, Mark noted. Usually she was a bit more reserved. That was one of the things Mark liked about her. Her professional detachment.
"I hear it's just great down there." Amanda gushed. "Didja get drunk and go wild?"
"Amanda! I was working!" Mark was a little taken aback by the question. He had always been a moderate drinker, and Amanda well knew that. She was probably just teasing him.
"Well you look great." Amanda said, hopping up to sit on the corner of Mark's desk. "If I didn't know better I'd say it was all a paid vacation."
"It was all serious work, Amanda." Mark lied. "Grueling hours. Really."
"Sure." Amanda said, skeptically.
Mark wanted to change the topic. He noticed that Amanda had lost a few pounds. "Hey, you look like you've shaped up a little yourself."
"Thanks!" Amanda practically chirped. She flexed an arm. "Been exercising. New Year's resolutions, you know."
"It's August." Mark pointed out.
"Getting a jump on 'em." Amanda quipped back. "Oh. Your messages are all backed up on the server, so you can download..."
The phone on Amanda's desk started to ring.
"I've got it!" Amanda leapt off Mark's desk and scurried out to the front desk. "I've got it!"
Well she's certainly got a lot more energy, Mark thought. When he sat down at his desk he realized how little there was on it. Just a small pile of letters and a couple of reports. He was expecting an avalanche of back work. Mark leafed through it and found nothing of immediate importance, so he then turned to the computer to look at his e-mail. It too, was much less that he expected.
Amanda appeared in the doorway. "That was Patty from downstairs. I'm gonna go talk to her on break. Okay?"
"Uh. Sure. Fine." Mark wondered why he was being asked. "Amanda, is this all there is for me?" Mark pointed at the pile on his desk.
"Oh, well, see - There's been so many meetings about the new procedures. No time for the usual load of work." Amanda said, flicking a piece of lint off her skirt.
"Oh." That made sense to Mark. And he wasn't complaining. "A skirt, Amanda?" It wasn't unusual for Amanda to dress neatly and professionally, but he had always known her to wear slacks to work.
"You can only wear the same thing for so long before wanting to try something new." Amanda said. "I'll be downstairs if you need me!" She added as she left.
Mark fished out his reading glasses from his shirt pocket and put them on as he got down to business. The first letter on the pile was from Dr. Dunney. It was marked "Private" and was sealed shut. He tore open the letter, to find a preprinted greeting addressed to 'Mr. Mark Zarnell.'
That's the price of working for such a huge company, Mark thought. They don't even get your name right. The letter was printed in red ink against a light green background which was nearly impossible to read. The combination almost looked like patterns were forming in between the lines. It was very hard to tell. The colors were almost flashing at him, stinging his eyes. It made his head hurt a little as he tried to focus on it. At about twenty pages long, the memo was as dull and boring as the speech he had sat through many weeks ago. It seemed that Dr. Dunney was consistent, at least.
When he was done, it seemed like hours had passed while reading the winded, excruciatingly bland letter. And when he noticed the time, he was right - hours had passed. Five of them.
Mark was at lunch with his usual crowd, Gretz, Hammy and Kev. Hammy was a programmer in systems, most famous for running the football pool. Kev had just started working in payroll after a long stint in the mail room. They had all been friends for a few years, even before they had all come to work at Lan-Cor.
"What's the meeting du jour today, Gretz?" Mark asked his friend. It had been a meeting every day since his return, and the subject was always a surprise until they arrived in the videoconfrencing room.
"Heck if I know." Gretz said. He used his fork to stack up a pile of lettuce from his salad. "It's always a surprise, isn't it?"
Mark lazily swirled around the ice cubes in his iced tea. "Yep. Always a surprise." The fact was Mark had a tough time even recalling the subject of the televised meetings. Often he would just kind of zone out early and snap out of it right at the end. But he didn't dare tell anybody that. It just wasn't smart if you wanted to keep your job.
"Hey, you think this Dunney character has any chance of turning Lan-Cor around?" Kev asked, gnawing on a pickle.
Hammy was still waiting for his food to arrive, eyeing the kitchen door like a hawk. "All I know is that I've lost $35,000 in stock value. I'm gonna have nothing left in my 401k if this goes on." Hammy thought he saw some movement from the kitchen and perked up. "I hope McDonalds will still be hiring seniors when I turn 65."
"Have you considered the lucrative market of selling body parts?" Mark suggested.
Kev spoke through a mouthful of food. "Eating here."
Mark barely paid attention. "My doctor tells me you only need one kidney. The other one is like cash in the bank."
Kev was a little more persistent. "You want me to rolf on your lap? Is that what you want?"
"How about you, Gretz?" Mark said. "I also hear medical experimentation pays pretty good - If you don't mind growing tentacles occasionally."
"I have full confidence in the abilities of Dr. Jim Dunney to address the issues and challenges that face Lan-Cor Global." Gretz said robotically. "And I'm sure every one of Lan-Cor's forty-five thousand worldwide employees would agree." Gretz waited a beat. "On a totally different and completely unrelated subject, anybody seen the movie Titanic?"
Hammy - yes, it was a nickname - looked over his shoulder and rubbed his hands together as he saw his T-bone steak arrive at the table. "Yes! Look at that baby!"
"You're gonna get fat eating like that, Hammy." Gretz chided. Hammy was already quite chubby. "You're gonna lose that trim figure."
Hammy had ignored the attempt at humor and had already started to carve up and devour the meat. He was almost your prototypical programmer, very pale and fat. A lifetime of immobility if front of a CRT had blobified him, but he was mostly free of the irritating personality traits common in computer geeks.
Kev, the fourth member of the group, had already finished off half a hamburger and was varnishing his fries in another two coats of ketchup. Kev was the youngest member of the group, at 27 years old. He had a deserved reputation as a car nut, which is how he had met Mark. It wasn't long before Mark had lobbied Kev to take a job at Lan-Cor. "Hey," Kev said, "You're the ones who are gonna bloat if you keep eating like pigs, you know."
Since Gretz was having a salad, and Mark had ordered a Tuna Melt he had only taken two bites of, it seemed clear that Kev was trying to be funny.
"Yeah well, I guess I'm done here." Gretz said, not wanting to stick around to just watch the other two continue to eat. "I'm gonna go wash up." Gretz dismissed himself and head off to the bathroom. Mark followed.
After relieving themselves in the stalls, the two men washed their hands. Mark looked in the mirror an idly wondered when his beard was going to grow back. How long had it been since he shaved?
"Losing your tan there, Mark." Gretz said.
"Yeah, well it wasn't ever going to last." Mark sighed. "I guess I'll have to take another vaca... I mean assignment down in Mexico."
Gretz kept combing his hair until every strand was in place. He was keeping himself unusually well-groomed lately. Even dressing neater. Nice Italian suits. Mark figured he was trying to get another promotion.
"If there was another one like that, I'd be the one to take it." Gretz smiled. "I've got a spot in Calgary if you want it."
"No." Mark said emphatically, then laughing. "Borrow your comb?"
"Hey, boss." Amanda said, entering the office. "You hear? We've got construction." She placed another cup of coffee on Mark's desk.
Mark shook his head, clearing the cobwebs. He was reading the latest mammoth memo from Dr. Dunney and had lost track of time. He checked his watch. Three hours.
"Yeah." Mark replied. "We're going to have a lot of construction around here for a while. They're remodeling most of the insides of the building."
"Sucks." Amanda keenly observed. "What about the noise?"
"They're going to do it at night, so no noise." Mark was able to add. "No dust either. Everything will be covered in plastic." Mark picked up the fresh cup of coffee and examined it. "Pink cups?" He asked.
Amanda shrugged in response and examined her nails.
Mark took note of his secretary's outfit. Just a couple of months ago, it was almost all dark clothing. She usually wore tan slacks with a black blazer and white blouse. It was practically her daily work uniform. Now, Amanda was deinitely developing an affinity for skirts. Today she wore a long dark blue turtleneck sweater and under it, a knee-length black skirt. A slightly ostentatious gold ankh pendant was hanging from a long gold chain around her neck. Her white pumps were an odd color for that outfit, he thought.
"Ready for the meeting?" Mark inquired. Another one was scheduled today.
"Yeah. I guess." Amanda let out a deep sigh. "Hey, you wanna skip it? I don't think they're going to send armed guards after us if we don't attend."
"Amanda. That's irresponsible." Mark said. He thought she might have been joking, but she had a pretty serious look on her face. "These meetings are important."
Amanda shook her fists in anger. "Argh!"
"You need to cut back on the coffee." Mark added.
"Actually, you know, I don't drink it anymore. It's kind of strange. I've just grown out of it, I suppose." She looked at her bosses' desk. "You, on the other hand..."
Mark took notice at the empty cups on his desk. There were five empties plus the new one, which he had already half-finished. "Hmm." He commented. "I'm not even jittery."
"I'd be bouncing off the walls by now." Amanda said.
"You'd be orbiting Jupiter by now." Mark observed.
As the fog lifted from his mind, Mark exited the meeting he had been attending and proceeded down the hall. The meetings had started to multiply, and now there were three or four a day, every day. How was he ever going to get any work done? He had just a few minutes to get to the next one, so he tried to speed up his pace.
It still felt unusual to walk in his new shoes, the loafers he had bought just recently. They were very expensive, and to him much more stylish than he was used to wearing. The rear heel was a little more substantial than he usually liked it, but he thought they looked pretty sharp. After all, if Gretz was trying to get a promotion by dressing up, he could do the same.
He was also wearing one of his new suits, a classy dark grey job that he had actually had tailored to fit. A first for him. There had been a huge sale at the local department store, Langdale's. It was specially for Lan-Cor employees, so he had been able to get a whole new set of suits for chicken feed. The only thing he didn't like was the silk lining of the pants and blazer which felt awfully strange against his skin. He hadn't requested it, but for the price, he could get used to it.
As he passed by another meeting room, he peered through the crack in the door to see what other employees were being subjected to. It was just like his meetings, with the video screen flickering away with the image of Dr. Dunney. Mark spotted Hammy and Kev inside, but they seemed engrossed in the video, so he didn't bother them. As he surveyed the rest of the class he noted that most of them - if not everybody - seemed to be dressed in sweaters and jeans. One guy was even wearing a leather jacket. Casual Friday was now bleeding into Tuesday, apparently. Mark just sniffed at them. These guys were never going to get promoted looking like that, he thought.
As he started to get into the video, someone came to the door and abruptly closed it in Mark's face. How rude, he thought. He was just looking. Mark then checked his watch and realized he was running late. He had to get to the next session.
It was the latest company directive, an hour-long "exercise session", mandatory for all employees. Part of the remodeling had been finished and there was now a small gymnasium and shower area in one part of the building. Mark barely made it in time, and he stripped down into the t-shirt and shorts uniform that was standard for everyone.
Mark hated having to do it every single day, but he was impressed with the results. Pounds were just melting off his frame, and he hadn't looked this good in years. So he decided not to complain - like he would have anyway.
Once dressed, he reported to the gym for for roll call.
Mark was waiting patiently for the rest of the guys to shuffle into the meeting room as he bit off the corners of his fingernails. They were really bugging him lately, growing like crazy. When he changed hands to bite the other fingers, he heard a loud "clunk" sound. Looking to see what made the noise, he saw his old college ring lying on the table in front of him. It had slid off his finger. Mark picked it back up and tried to put it back, but for some reason, it wouldn't stay on. It was too big. He figured it might have been the recent warm weather or something. With the session about to start, there wasn't time to fuss with it, so he just put it in his pocket to figure out later.
The meetings he had grown so used to attending over the past few several weeks had ended, thank God, and now they had broken up into smaller focus groups. Every group had a discussion leader, and every day they would take a little bit of reading and research home, filling out some forms on the material. The books had that same green & red coloring as the memos he had hated to read. It still gave him tiny headaches from time to time.
He had this particular focus group with Karen from accounts, someone he had almost asked out once before realizing she was married, and Amanda's friend Patty from downstairs. Since they were the only people he knew in he group, they chatted for a while before getting shushed.
Mark decided to remove his heavy jacket and cool off in the small warm room. When he did so, he was reminded about the new shirt he had worn today, a regular dress shirt that was made out of rayon or silk or something like that. It was cool and light, and he was becoming very fond of the material. Mark had purchased it on impulse, as it was another heavilly-discounted item from his latest trip to Langdale's. It was cut a little loosely, and he was worried he might get a few looks from the others, but no one seemed to even note it. Which was just fine by him. Although he wouldn't have minded a compliment from his friends.
Mark certainly would have complimented the girls. He liked Karen's look. Under her cardigan sweater, was a pale blue stretchy crop-top and sea-blue short sarong with wedge slide shoes. Patty had worn a wooly off-white sweater and dangerously brief tan shorts with black platform boots. Mark was really finding the clothes girls were wearing to be more and more fascinating every day. The combinations, colors and variations seemed endless. But choose the wrong combination, and it was a disaster. But most of the girls around work had been dressing really smart lately, making very few fashion mistakes. He noticed.
Finally the discussion leader started to diagram something on the white board. Mark then kicked off his shoes and got comfortable. It was going to be a while until this was over.
Mark was taking the opportunity in the break period between group sessions to catch up on paperwork. Fortunately, there wasn't much to catch up on. Most of his work these days was related to the sessions he was taking anyway.
He was trying to get into the latest Dr. Dunney memo when he found a pair of reading glasses on his desk. Where had they come from? Whose were they? He'd have to ask around.
Suddenly, he heard a sharp noise from outside. Mark jumped out of his chair to check with Amanda. He found her there, filing her nails and bobbing her head back and forth as she listened to music on her walkman.
She had worn a sparkly silver sleeveless top with a cowl neck, matched with a white miniskirt and white tights. A pair of all-white tennis shoes laid by her desk where she had discarded them. As she continued to groove to the music, she blew a small pink bubble of chewing gum and then quickly inhaled it back into her mouth, creating a loud cracking sound. That was what Mark had heard.
He motioned wildly for Amanda to take off those headphones. It took her a minute to notice him. Once she did, she lifted a single earpiece to hear him.
"What?" She asked.
"Any more gum?" Mark asked.
"Purse." Amanda pointed at her purse on the desk. She let the earpiece snap back into place. Mark got a couple of pieces and started to chew on them furiously. In just a couple of minutes he was able to start duplicating the cracking noise. Mark tried a few and was quite pleased with his ability to figure out how to do it. He motioned again for Amanda to remove the earphones.
"Hey 'Manda, these yours?" He showed the reading glasses to her. She shook her head in the negative. Mark shrugged and tossed them away. "So, have you been noticing anything weird going on around here lately?" He asked.
Amanda turned off the CD. "Like what?"
"Well, I don't know. It's hard to define. All these groups and assignments we keep having. It's almost as if we don't do any real work around here anymore."
"It's the transition. The whole company's at a standstill." Amanda said. She opened he top drawer and selected a nail polish from five bottles. "I'm sure it'll pick up."
"The transition seems to be lasting a long time, though, don't you think? I mean, it should have been just maybe a few days, but now we've been in this transition phase for..." Mark tried to remember how long it had been. "A really long time."
"It hasn't been that long. You're just worried because you don't have any work. You always, always, always work and never have any fun. You're such a goody-two-shoes."
"I am not." Mark protested. "I just take things a little more seriously, that's all."
"Psh!" Amanda scolded. "Okay. I tell you what. Let's ditch the last meeting of the day and get out of here."
"Well..." Mark hesitated.
"See?" Amanda replied. "You can't even..."
"Okay, fine. We'll do it." Mark interrupted, giving in a little too easily. "But if we get caught, I'm blaming you."
"Great!" Amanda said. "We'll go to Langdale's. I saw this killer dress there the other day.."
"Mr. Parnell!" A voice came from behind. Mark swiveled around in a blink, keeping his hands behind him. It was Mr. Lawton from building maintenance. What had he heard? Was he going to turn Mark in? "Mark Parnell?" Lawton continued.
"Uh. Yeeesss..." Mark hesitatingly replied. He was sure he was blushing with embarrassment for getting caught.
"On Monday, we're going to start in on this area. We're going to need both you and your secretary to leave for a little while, as the remodeling continues." Mr. Lawton said.
"Oh!" Mark said, grateful that Mr. Lawton apparently didn't hear or didn't care about Mark's plan to leave early.
Mr. Lawton went on. "It won't be for more than a few weeks."
Suddenly Mark realized what the man was saying. "But where am I going to work?"
"We'll let you know on Monday." Lawton said. "Hope this isn't too inconvenient." Lawton turned and exited. "If you have any questions, I'm at extension 2143."
Mark stood in silence for a minute, thinking about what had just happened. How was he going to get any work done without his office? Well, truth be told, there wasn't any work anymore, so it probably wasn't so big a deal. And they'd probably just relocate him down the hall or something anyway. No big whoop.
"Well this sucks." Amanda said.
"Yeah." Mark agreed. "We better start packing up the stuff." He suggested. Then he took a look at the late hour. "Screw that shit. We'll do it tomorrow. Let's go, 'Manda."
"That's what I wanted to hear!" Amanda said. She grabbed her purse, Mark got his jacket and the two left for the day.
Some days later, Mark was leaning against one of the hallway walls trying to get through the latest memo from Dr. Dunney. More and more, he was able to read them without feeling those splitting headaches, but it was harder than ever to understand them. As he stood there puzzled, he sipped on his seventh cup of coffee and toyed with his hair, which he had let grow out to almost shoulder length.
He wasn't absolutely sure why he had let it grow, but it seemed to be a popular trend with some of his coworkers. In fact, he had let Amanda talk him into having it "styled" or something when the two ditched last week. At that long length it had been looking pretty shaggy, and the new "style" kept him looking neat and well-groomed, so he had stuck with it. Besides, he looked years younger with long hair.
All of the sudden, a nearby door swung open. Mark hadn't noticed that he had parked himself too near, and the door caught him in the arm.
"Ow!" He yelped, rubbing his shoulder. "Ow ow ow!"
"Ohmigawd!" The person who opened the door said. "Are you okay?"
Mark recognized him as Steve Holden, a guy he had worked with back when he first got to Lan-Cor. "Steve!" Mark said, happy to see him.
"Hey! Mark! How'z it hangin?" Steve replied.
"Low and free." Was mark's response. It was an old joke they had used to share many times.
"It's been, like, forever!" Steve said.
The two men had a lot to catch up on, and they talked for a good long while. Mark thought that Steve looked great, and asked him where he had been shopping lately. The answer seemed to be the same as everyone else: Langdale's.
Steve was wearing a long coat-like thing, that went down to his shoe-tops. It was tied at the waist like a raincoat, but was much tighter. It was also a bright orange, which Mark thought looked great with Steve's slightly dark skin tone.
Maybe it wasn't a real coat, but it was very flattering. And like a lot of people at Lan-Cor, Steve must have lost a few pounds with the new exercise period.
In turn, Steve complimented Mark's outfit, a dark purple suit that had a double-breasted button front, which he had worn without a tie today. His pants were almost bell-bottoms, loose and flowing in the leg, but tight around his rear. Mark liked it as well, despite the total lack of pockets. He like all his new clothes a lot. He had already boxed all his old stuff up and stored it away.
When the two finally went on their separate ways, Mark's good mood left quickly. It seemed that everyone he knew was going through some sort of change. It was just a feeling he had, but Mark was sure something strange was happening here at Lan-Cor. It seemed like every day something new would bother him.
Mark collected himself and headed back to his temporary work area, Room 314, which he was sharing with about ten or so other relocated employees. Amanda was there, doodling on some paper as she sat at her small desk. Mark sat down at his identical desk next to her and slumped in the seat. He couldn't get the bad thoughts out of his head.
Mark got a good look at Amanda, who was looking real healthy. She seemed more alive, more vital. She smiled all the time, she seemed to be always jumping around and she was always up for anything. It looked like maybe she was just a little bit younger, if such a thing was possible. She didn't look a day over twenty-five.
As he ruminated further, he noticed that the door had opened, and in came a small assortment of executives. As they buzzed amongst themselves, Mark noticed that they all seemed to be hovering around one particular man in the center.
"It's Dr. Dunney!" Amanda whispered loudly behind Mark. She was right. The man in the center was none other that Dr. Jim Dunney, live and in the flesh. What was he doing here in Edenwood? Mark tried to look like he wasn't watching, and straightened up in his his chair. He chose a random folder and started to pretend he was working on it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Dr. Dunney was asking a few questions, and looking at the various people in the room very closely. Dr. Dunney asked a question and one of the executives referenced a piece of paper, looked around the room and pointed. At Mark.
As he started to tremble in his loafers, Mark wanted to remain calm. But he was obviously nervous. The men walked around to the rear of the room, out of Mark's field of vision, and all he could do was try and control the tremors in his hands.
"Mark Parnell?" Mark jumped up four hundred feet in the air. In his mind, at least. In reality, he imperceptibly flinched.
Mark turned his head and there was Dr. Dunney, standing right next to him. Mark got up on his two feet. "Dr. Dunney. Good to meet you." He said.
Dr. Dunney looked at Mark closely. He ran his eyes up, His eyes down. He focused on Mark's shoes, his hands, his waist. He looked at his chest. Finally, Dr. Dunney took a long look at Mark's face. Without breaking his stare, Dr Dunney asked: "You're the one who was down in Mexico, right?"
Oh crap, Mark thought. Someone didn't like the paid vacation he got and blabbed. He was in deep trouble now.
"Y..Yes. Sir." Mark stuttered.
"Hmmm." Dr. Dunney said. "Things going okay around here? No problems with the transition?"
"Oh. No sir." Maybe Dr. Dunney wasn't so interested in the trip after all.
"How long did that trip last?" Dunney said.
Uh-oh, Mark thought. "About three weeks, sir."
"Yes. Yes." Dunney idly spoke. "Three weeks." For a long minute, Dunney only stared. He glanced at Mark's desk. "Like the coffee?"
"Uh. Yes." Mark's knees may have been knocking. He was starting to feel flush.
"Wonderful. Wonderful." Dr. Dunney turned around and began to leave. "Well, keep up the good work, Mark."
"Yes, sir." Mark said. "Nice to meet you, sir."
Mark fell back into his chair. As he caught up with his postponed act of breathing, Mark saw Dr. Dunney leave with his entourage.
Dunney pointed back at Mark and then pointed at one of the executives. He wrote something on a clipboard. And just as quietly as they had arrived, they left.
A wadded piece of paper hit Mark in the head. He spun around to see Amanda.
"Y-y-y-yes s-s-s-s-sir!" Amanda teased.
"Shut up." Was all Mark could think to say. He tossed the paper back at her. Mark tried to figure out what had just happened. Dunney seemed to be examining him like a piece of meat. It was a good thing he had dressed so well today. He was sure to impress. But still, Mark's sense of confusion only grew.
Mark knocked on Gretz' door. "You in?" He called through.
"Yeh. Come on in."
Mark carried with him the latest memo from Dr. Dunney. This one was more indecipherable than any yet. He had read it from beginning to end three times and was still baffled. He held it up as he came into the office.
"You understand any of this?" Mark said, referencing the memo.
"Which one?" Gretz replied.
Mark tossed it onto his desk. Gretz picked it up and examined it closely. Mark noted that at least one thing hadn't changed around here. Gretz was still the same, immaculately dressed and groomed, and as good a friend as ever.
"Oh. Yeah. This one." Gretz said. "I've got so many lately it's hard to tell anymore." Gretz loosened his tie and took a deep breath. "This outlines the upcoming policies for the next few weeks, sort of an agenda setter. He outlines the new commuting incentives, the mentoring program, the employee morale initiate, blah blah blah. All that in only fifty-five pages." Gretz tossed the memo back across the desk. "Don't worry, we'll be explaining it completely in the sessions."
"Good." Mark said. "I don't think I could take another read of that one." Mark searched for a subject to extend the conversation. "Hey, you saw Dunney was here yesterday?"
Gretz rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me. It was a total surprise inspection. I nearly peed in my pants."
"He's a lot taller than I thought. You think he's better looking in person?" Mark asked.
"A little. Not as boring, that's for sure." Gretz thought about it. "I actually found him pretty interesting."
Mark wanted to tell his story. "Yeah well, let me tell you. I was at my desk and he..."
A knock came from the door. "Hey, G! Lunch?" It was Kev. "Oh. Hey, Mark." He gave a brief nod at Mark.
"Hi." Mark said. He thought Kev looked extremely trim. Obviously he'd taken up jogging or something. Either that or whatever diet he was on was working a little too well.
"Oh, Uh..." Gretz stammered a little. "Actually, I told Hammy I'd go with him."
"Damn. Really?" Kev said.
"Yeah." Gretz nervously smiled back. "Sorry."
"Can I take you tomorrow? I'll pay and everything." Kev asked hopefully.
"Um. We'll see." Gretz replied. "I'll give you a call."
Kev looked a like he was at a loss. He paused and then backed out of the door. "Okay. Well. I'll hear from you."
"Yeah." Gretz said.
At that, Kev dropped his head and shuffled away. Mark looked back at Gretz. "So. You're gonna go with Hammy?"
"Well, He did ask." Gretz said without enthusiasm.
"Okay, well, we'll go get something to eat later this week." Mark said.
"Friday?" Gretz offered.
"It's a date." Mark said. He got up and showed himself out. "Call!" He said in departing.
Mark briefly wondered why such a fuss was being made over the lunch thing. They used to all go together. Why couldn't Kev tag along with Hammy and Gretz? That used to be okay. Why wasn't it anymore?
He decided that it was just the way things were now. No big deal. There were a lot of changes lately. And if he kept worrying about every single one he was going to drive himself crazy. He needed to learn to go with the flow.
Mark was returning from another exercise period, freshly showered and feeling a bit refreshed. He used to hate to exercise, but this program had him feeling peppy and light on his feet. His body felt great.
But since the week had started, he had been had been a little uncomfortable in the gym. There had been three locker rooms, two for men and one for women - but now they had closed his locker room down due to some sort of burst pipe in the showers, and he had to move into one of the other rooms. He was told the mens' lockers were full up, so he and a bunch of other guys were now dressing with some of the girls. They promised to be on their best behavior, but it was still a little awkward. Fortunately, no one was getting too hung up on the subject. They all seemed to be getting along well together.
But Mark was still feeling a teensy bit odd about it. He had to keep reminding himself: go with the flow.
Mark stopped at the end of the hall where the coffee machine had been kept, only to discover it had vanished. Gone. Vapor. In its' place was a tall, illuminated soda machine, dispensing "Mr. Fizz". Another stupid subsidiary of Lan-Cor. Mark's heart leapt into his throat. What was he going to do now? Where was the coffee? He needed the coffee!
Mark went to the elevator, only to find it "under renovation" as everything was now days. He found the stairwell and ran up and down, to check all the floors for coffee. They were all gone. All the machines were gone. As Mark returned to his floor, he decided he wasn't going to panic. There was no reason to lose his cool. If he wanted coffee, he'd just bring some from home. But for now, he'd just make do.
He pumped the machine full of quarters and got a a can of Mr. Fizz to get him through the rest of the day. He only prayed he would make it.
As he looked at the can he realized he had bought the regular stuff. He didn't want the regular stuff. He couldn't drink that! And he had no more quarters. "Shit!" He swore to himself as he stomped a foot.
Just then, A guy passed by, so Mark held out the can to him. "Buy this?" She pleaded.
The guy looked back in confusion.
"I accidentally bought the regular one, and I need money to get the diet!" Mark smiled as brightly as he could. "Please, please?" He hugged the can to his chest, and then offered it out to the guy.
The guy had stopped, and seemed to be on the hook. He gave Mark a long look. He looked at Mark's toothy smile, and quickly roamed his eyes over his body. Mark was wearing his newest thing, a short black jacket that stopped right at his waist line, where a small tuft of his silky pink shirt would occasionally show through. The long ankle-length black skirt hugged his bottom and showed off the shape of his thin legs. His high heel loafers accentuated the curves.
"Sure." The guy said, dropping a backpack he was carrying. He dug into his pocket and produced the quarters, taking the can in exchange.
"Thanks!" Mark said, emphasizing his genuine feeling of gratefulness. "Thanks so much. Really." He gave the guy a happy little squint of his eyes.
The guy picked up his pack, nodded, smiled, and proceeded on his way.
Mark put the new quarters in the machine and chose a Diet Mr. Fizz Twist. He silently cursed at himself for being so stupid. Drinking the regular stuff was just like a sin against God. Maybe not that bad, but close. Thank goodness for that guy, she thought. Thank goodness.
Mark made his way back to room 314 where he plopped himself down at his little desk. He took off his jacket, popped the top on his can, and took a long noisy sip of it. He scanned the room to see it was bothering anybody, but everyone seemed to have their own cans as well. Every guy had a regular Mr. Fizz, and everyone else had a Diet. Mark looked next to him, finding his secretary reading one of the books they had been assigned to read for the sessions.
"Mandee!" Mark whispered.
"What?" She whispered back.
"Mandee, you didn't read the assignment!"
"No duh." She flipped another page. "I'll just get it finished in time - if you don't keep interrupting me!"
"Shhh!" Some people said from the front of the room. Mark made a face at them.
"Well, fine!" Mark replied. He took another annoying sip of the soda.
Mark glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that only about five minutes was left until next period. He started to blow air upward so it would catch his new bangs and shoot them skyward. Then, they'd float back down and he'd do it again. He liked the new 'do, a sort of permanent wave that gave his hair a lot of body. He had it lightened up a few shades, and with the highlights, it was a very brassy blonde now. Of course it was Mandee who had talked him into it, as she knew exactly what buttons to push to get Mark to do almost anything. Fortunately, when Mark saw it for real on his head, it wasn't as bad as he thought it was going to look. In fact, something told him that it was exactly what he wanted.
They had spent most of yesterday roaming the Edenwood mall, throwing money around like confetti. It seemed like every store was having some sort of incredible sale just for Lan-Cor employees, and the two had made out like thieves.
Mark's big mall purchase was the addition of skirts to his wardrobe. He had been in Langdale's, watching Mandee try on a small pile of miniskirts, when he got roped into trying one on.
"Here!" Mandee said, approaching Mark with a lime green mini. "Why don't you try it."
"Yeah. No way!" Mark said. "Put it back."
"Come on, Mark! Loosen up!" Mandee said, letting a heavy amount of exasperation filter into her tone. "Don't be such a prude."
"Come on, Mandee, put it back." Mark repeated, draping the skirt on Mandee's pile.
"What about this one?" Mandee said, holding a long black skirt up to Mark's legs.
"Stop it!" Mark instead. He looked around to see if anybody was staring.
"Just try it! Why won't you just try a skirt?" Mandee struck her arms akimbo, waiting for an answer.
"Because!" Mark said with conviction.
"Why not!?" Mandee was getting angry.
"Because." Mark repeated.
"Mark!" Mandee demanded something better.
"Because..." Mark was really trying to figure out why this was bothering him so much. What was his problem, exactly? Something - he wasn't sure what - was screaming in his head that this was extremely weird. "I..." Mark twisted his face in anguish. "I... Don't have the legs for it."
Mandee threw her arms in the air. "You legs are fine!" Mandee took the black skirt under her arm and grabbed Mark by the hand as she dragged him to the dressing room. "Just try it and see if you like it." Mandee said.
A small drop from the can landed in Mark's lap. He quickly brushed it off before it could be absorbed. He looked over at Mandee, who was looking back over the top of her book. Then she looked at the skirt Mark was wearing, then back at Mark. Mandee smiled with pride.
"Shut." Mark muttered. "Up."
"Shhh!" came from the front of the room.
Mark dashed into his fifth-period group session just as the bell rang to indicate it was time to begin. It was a new schedule, breaking the day into eight sessions. The suits in administration felt that it would get the whole transition process over quicker if they were able to cover more topics a day, rather that just three or four. The last session of the day usually ended by three, so at least he could leave work early.
Mark picked a seat and sat down, gracefully smoothing his skirt as he made himself comfortable.
"How'z it hangin?" He heard from behind.
"Low and free." Mark replied. It was his friend Steve. Mark was relieved to know someone, as he didn't really recognize anyone else in the room. The group leader was still shuffling her notes up front, so Mark turned around to talk.
Before he could say anything, he was shocked to look at his old friend. Steve had put his long black hair up in a japanese twist, and was wearing a sparkling white lipstick. He was dressed in a shiny vinyl black tube top and a reddish fake snakeskin miniskirt. He was showing a lot of skin, including a sizable pair of breasts.
Steve's slender neck and shoulders were tanned and smooth. Flawless skin. His waist was whisper-thin until it expanded out into a very healthy rear end. At the end of his very slim legs, Steve had a pair of stretchy platform boots that were just the right touch.
Mark felt a rush of emotion run through him. He felt hot and cold at the same time. His heart pumped in his chest. His vision seemed to fade away for a moment as lightheadedness swept over him.
"You look hot!" Mark said with envy. "Like, super hot!"
Steve smiled and looked a little embarrassed. "Thanks." His almond-shaped eyes became half-moons as his high cheeks rose with his grin.
"Wow!" Mark was totally awed. Steve was looking better than he had ever seen him. And in return, Mark felt like junk.
The group leader cleared her throat, indicating it was time to begin. Mark turned back around in his seat, and faced forward. He was still astonished at how cool Steve looked. It was all he thought about for the rest of the day.
When Mark returned to room 314 at the end of the session, he found a note from Mandee. It read "Admin wants 2 see U @ 1st convenience. 4th floor, Mr. Brimwell's office. Mandee." She had added a winking smiley face with it's tongue sticking out under her name.
"Great." Mark said. He stuffed the note into the folder he was carrying and made his way to the stairwell. When he arrived, a secretary had Mark wait for five nervous minutes until he was ushered into the office.
Mr. Brimwell was one of Dr. Dunney's people he had installed when Dunney first arrived. He was showing some grey at the temples, and his face had been drained of life. Mark had met him some time ago, but he didn't remember him being so tall. Mark was at least six inches shorter than Brimwell.
Around the office, the only things on his walls were a few diplomas. The one other decoration was a single picture frame on the large desk, facing away from Mark.
"Ah." Brimwell said. "Mmmm..." He looked at a folder to check something. "Mmmmark?" He waited a moment for something that didn't happen. "Mark. Have a seat."
"Mark, I wanted to tell you personally about our new mentoring program. Now, this is nothing to get worried about, as all our employees will be assigned to a mentor - or to mentor others. It's a new approach to management that we're very excited about and we're hoping that all the employees are just as enthusiastic as we are in administration. Now, I don't have to explain a lot about it, as I'm sure you've read the memo."
Yeah. Mark thought. Sure.
Mr. Brimwell continued. "We're going to be working in units of three to seven, with a lead mentor and apprentice, and then from one to five junior members of the unit.
"From your employee profile, being here for about a year, we'll be assigning you to a three-member unit. I don't know if you've met Ted Douglas, our VP in charge of Southern Asian Instructional Training, but he'll be the head of your unit. The Douglas Unit, as we'll refer to it."
Mark was trying to let this all sink in. He hoped it was some harmless little plan that wouldn't affect him in any significant way, but he was quickly losing hope. This all sounded pretty elaborate.
"The apprentice mentor in the Douglas Unit will be Wendy Winters, from logistics." Brimwell put down the paper he was reading from and folded his hands on the desk. "Which leaves you, as the junior member of the Douglas Unit. I think you'll find that Wendy's seven years of experience and Ted's twenty years will benefit you immensely here at Lan-Cor, and if you utilize their expertise, a bright future awaits you." Mr. Brimwell placed the papers onto a pile at the side of the desk. "Any questions I can answer for you?"
Like, why am I the fucking junior member when I've got an office and secretary? A question like that, ya old skeleton? Mark thought to himself. "Just one, sir." Mark said. "How will we be meeting, on a monthly or quarterly basis, or.."
"Starting next week, we'll have your group meet after-hours at a company residence in the suburbs. It will kind of like a retreat, with all members of the Unit living together, learning to cooperate and function as a group. A bonding experience. Then during the day, you'll be working here."
"Oh." Was all Mark could say. This sounded like a real pain in the ass. And if he knew corporate life..
"I should add that this is mandatory for employment here at Lan-Cor." Brimwell said.
...so predictable. There was no real way out of it. At least the whole company was going through this. At least it had better.
The bus let Mark off at his place and he trudged up the walkway, weary from the long day at Lan-Cor. The bus was a new thing, yet another new initiative from Lan-Cor. This one Mark liked.
Every employee was encouraged to leave their cars at home "to help do our part in saving our environment from pollution," said the menmo. Employees were then supposed use a mass transit busing system the company had put together for the private use of employees. This way, Mark didn't have to slog through the heavy traffic of commuting, and the company even paid him a little money as an incentive to use the program. Even more, it was faster than driving.
Mark made his way upstairs with a fresh can of Diet Mr. Fizz and started decompressing on the phone with Mandee, their usual routine of calling each other after work.
He was standing in front of a mirror, half-clothed, evaluating his body. It occurred to him that he hadn't had to shave in a long while. His legs, that is.
"You should have seen him, Mandee. Steve was looking like he stepped off a runway. He was so cool looking."
"Yeah, I saw him, and I think he was just showing off." Mandee replied. "You don't need to be so slutty when you have a body like that. He'd look good in anything."
"Yeah." mark said. "That's my point. He has such a great body." Mark pinched his flat nipple. "And all I got is..."
"Don't do that to yourself, Mark. Y'know, you've got a great body. I wish I had your eyes."
Mark leaned forward in the mirror and batted his long, heavy eyelashes. "My eyes aren't a part of my body." Mark said.
"What?" Mandee quizzed.
"You know what I mean." Mark stood up straight again and posed like a model. His hairless body was thin and lean, and he had good clear skin. At least he had a few things going for him. "I just wish I had those kind of curves. And that sense of fashion."
"Steve's a bimbo." Mandee said. "Like, forget about Steve. You've got y'know, great.. qualities.."
Mark stopped posing and walked over to his bed, where he sat down. He freely swung his legs back and forth. When did his bed get so tall? He flopped around and layed on his back. "Qualities? What do you mean, qualities?"
"I..." Mandee tried to speak.
Mark made a voice like a fat girl. "Like I have a nice personality?"
"I'm just trying to make you feel better!" Mandee protested. "Your problem is you think too much."
"Thanks a lot." Mark said. "You know what your problem is?"
"I'm sorry, Mark. It's been a long day y'know, what with the whole mentor junk and all." Mandee said.
"I'm sorry. I am little uptight." Mark sympathized. "Who'd you get for a mentor?"
"I'll be like, a part of the Matthews Unit. You know, Randall Matthews from Systems."
"He is such a pointdexter!" Mark said.
"Oh thank you very much. I didn't know that, bitch. God, this blows." Mandee was obviously leery about the arrangement.
"Yah. This is such... garbage." Mark couldn't think of anything more to say. "Hey, I'm hungry. I'll call you later after I eat something."
"Sounds good." Mandee answered. "I'll be here all night packing for the retreat thingy."
"Okay, bye!" Mark said, ending the call.
He rolled himself over to the desk where he set down the phone and bounced up onto his feet. Passing the mirror once more, he started to rub his chest. He could just feel the smallest little knot in there, but it sure wasn't what he wanted. It made him feel so insignificant. So unsophisticated. So ugly.
Being near the bathroom triggered his need to use it. After doing his business sitting down, he paused for a moment. It was when he was tucking himself back in that he realized something.
He had a little penis.
As he thought about it, the notion was alien to him. Was there a reason he felt so odd about it? It was normal for him to see it, but it was still gave him a funny feeling. He couldn't decide exactly what the problem was. Was it the right size? Had it been bigger? Should it be smaller? Conflicting thoughts clashed in his brain. It was normal to have one, right? Wasn't it? Well if it was okay, why did he hide it between his legs all day?
Mark felt his stomach turn, and suddenly he wasn't very hungry anymore. It was like his body was trying to tell him something. But what? Some great battle was raging inside of him. And he was in the middle, unable to stop it. It was as if one part of him was screaming for air, clinging to life.
Mark growled in exasperation and grabbed the phone. "Hey, Mandee? Let's go shopping. I need to blow off some steam."
"You got it!" Mandee said with glee.
Mark was chewing his gum impatiently as he sat through his third period. It was sooo boooring. He wanted to get out of there and meet up with Patty and Karen next period. He didn't like the leader of this group anyway. He was so majorly dull!
Mark checked the clock again, which had refused to tick any faster. It was still twenty minutes before this was over with. He blew out a strong breath and dipped his head in exasperation. He got himself together and wiggled into his seat a little more. The new desks were chair/desk combination pieces, and the hard seat was very uncomfortable. Still, Mark tried to give the discussion leader one more shot at being interesting. The man started to scribble something on the chalk board. Mark listened intently.
That lasted fifteen seconds before Mark had grabbed a notebook and started to scribble spirals in it.
When bored with that, he peered around the room once more to find anything interesting. He spotted a familiar face. It was that guy who had bought the Mr. Fizz soda from him a couple of weeks ago. And he was staring back at Mark.
Mark straightened up and smiled back. It was good to see him again. He hadn't even gotten his name the first time they'd met, now he had a second chance.
Mark brought his hand down to scratch his exposed thigh through the opaque white stockings he had on. He was hoping to draw the guy's attention to his legs, and it was a complete success. Mark had on some of his latest stuff he had bought with Mandee last week.
It was a white ruffled shirt combined with a pink denim A-line miniskirt. Pink tennis shoes with platform soles were on his feet, and he had accented it all with numerous bracelets on each wrist. His hair had been done up today with a couple of pink clips holding it in place. Little pink hoops dangled from each ear, and his nails had been done in the same shade.
He had learned a lesson from his friend Steve, and had started to use a little lipstick and mascara. It really made a big difference. All in all, he was pleased with the results, but he still thought it was like dressing up a stick.
The guy though, seemed to appreciate the hard work Mark had gone through. He wasn't breaking contact at all, just drinking in Mark's essence with his eyes.
It was kind of nice, being looked over by this guy. It sent some nice sensations through Mark's body. Boys had a lot of nice things about them, he thought. They're like little puppy dogs. Cute and innocent at times, but precocious and frisky at others.
Mark decided to give him a little show and fished around in his tiny pink purse for his compact. He had to dig through a bunch of cosmetics to find the shade he was wearing this morning, but he eventually got it.
He brushed some blush on his cheeks, puckering as he did so. He spent as long as he could doing it, then did it again, and then clacked the compact shut. To his satisfaction, that guy was still looking.
Mark felt his stomach turn again. A nauseating sensation worked him over. Something was wrong again. Something wasn't right. Mark was beginning to worry. He couldn't keep living with this sense of stifled panic.
When the group let out, Mark found the guy waiting for him as he made his way to the next period.
"Hey." He said, approaching Mark.
"Hey." Mark replied.
"Enjoy the soda?" the guy said.
"Huh?" Mark answered. He was lost looking up into his eyes. "Oh. Yeah. It was tasty. Thanks."
"I, uh... Didn't get your name." Mark sheepishly asked.
"I'm Nick. I'll be in the Collins Unit." He said, referring to the mentor program. It was how they were designated now. "You?"
"Oh." Mark thought for a minute. Somehow, he drew a blank. Was he really so nervous? "Mar..." He cleared his throat. "Misha. I'll be in the Douglas Unit."
"Okay, Misha. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Kay." was the reply.
Misha tried to remember exactly what it was that he had been worried about. He tried hard, but it didn't come to him. Whatever. It probably wasn't important. He floated to his next session.
The last bell of the day rang out, and Misha crammed all his books and notes into his backpack and headed back to his desk in room 314. It was going to be an interesting day to say the least. The mentoring program was beginning, and Misha would take the bus straight to the residential area he had been assigned to. There, he'd meet with the unit for the first time. No one he knew was looking forward to it.
Misha stopped at room 314 to get her bags of stuff, but found the room empty. He looked at his desk and found a small preprinted note. "Due to renovation, your personal effects have been moved to the West Hall, locker 210," it read.
Great. Now he was being tossed out of the temporary office. When were they going to finish up with his original one? It had been, like, forever! Maybe when Dr. Dunney takes full control of this place he can fix all these stupid problems. If anybody could, he could. Maybe he should write him a letter and tell him how great it was to work for him.
Misha wandered around a little before he found a place marked "West Hall" which had looked like it had just been finished from remodeling. He made his way to locker 210 and spun the combination. Inside, he found all his stuff along with the luggage he had brought this morning.
How had he known the combination?
"Hey!" Mandee had approached from behind and went to the locker next to Misha. "We're locker buddies!" She dialed her combination in and opened the door.
"Oh cool!" Misha enthused. They'd see each other between every period. That was way cool. "Score!" Misha said. The two exchanged a little high-five in celebration. What was it about the lock that bugged him? Who cares.
"You ready for the mentoring thing?" Mandee asked.
"No." Misha said with scorn. "You?"
"Gawd. How stupid." Mandee agreed.
"No kidding." Misha concurred. "I caee..rk!" Misha grabbed his throat. Mandee looked bewildered by the noise he made. "Voice." Misha explained. "It's been acting up."
Mandee agreed. "No kidding. You sounded like someone stepped on your tail."
Misha cleared his throat with a grunt and tested his voice. "Me me meee!" He sang in soprano. "That's better."
Mandee checked her watch. "Busses!" She said with alarm.
"Shit! We'll miss 'em!" Misha cried back.
The two gathered their things and slammed the doors shut. They daintily sprinted down the hall and stairway, making it just in time.
"Call me!" Misha said. "Douglas Unit!"
"Matthews Unit!" Mandee responded.
Misha leapt onto the bus as the doors closed, and tried to smile his way past the frowning bus driver. He took a seat at the back by himself and relaxed.
It wasn't a few minutes later that Misha woke himself up and heard the driver call out: "Misha! Douglas Unit! Mishadouglasunit!" Misha sprang up from his seat, minced down the aisle and got off.
The place looked like a normal house, with a nicely kept lawn and even a mailbox with a little windmill on it. The place had a very homey feel to it. He had expected a condo or other sort of sterile environment. He was pleased to find something much more comfortable.
Misha got to the front door and rang the bell. "Come on in! It's open!" He heard a woman call from inside. He tenderly pressed on the door as it creaked open. Inside, he found a warmly-lit cozy living room with some dated but still decent furniture.
"Hello!" A woman came from around a corner and greeted her. She was drying a dish with a towel. "You must be Misha. I'm Wendy, the apprentice mentor, and Ted, the lead mentor will be home in a little while. Why don't you put your bags in your room, and then we can get to know each other, okay?"
Misha looked around sheepishly.
"Oh!" The woman said apologetically. "Your room is upstairs, second door on your left. I just made the bed and put some fresh towels in the bathroom for you."
"Um... Thanks." Mandee replied.
The woman smiled and returned to wherever she had come from. Misha heard a faucet turn on from that direction. He went upstairs and found a modestly-sized room where he dropped the bags. There was a nice big bed and a dresser, a desk with a mirror and a large closet. There was a bathroom attached on the side, where Misha indeed found clean towels.
There was a phone by the bed with a small directory under it. Misha walked over to look at it, and saw it was marked as a Lan-Cor Unit phone directory. He flipped it open to "M" to find Mandee. She wasn't listed, he thought at first. But there was a listing for "Matthews" which he dialed.
"Matthews Unit," came a woman's voice from the other end of the line.
"Yeah... Hi. Is Mandee there?" Misha asked.
"Yes she is, but I'm afraid she can't come to the phone right now," the woman said.
"Oh." Misha said. He wasn't expecting to be talking to someone he didn't even know. "Can you just tell her that Misha called?"
"Sure." The woman replied. "What Unit?"
"Okay..." the woman said as she seemed to be talking and writing at the same time. "Misha Douglas... Unit called... 3:45. I'll let her know."
"Thanks!" Misha tried to say with appreciation.
"Goodbye, Misha." The woman then hung up.
Misha left the room and headed downstairs, figuring there wasn't any point in delaying this any further. He found the kitchen where the woman who greeted him was putting some dishes away.
"There you are!" She said brightly as she noticed Misha's presence. "I hope you found everything."
"Yah." Misha said.
"There's some pop in the fridge, if you want some." Said the woman. Misha went to the refrigerator and found a case of Diet Mr. Fizz inside. His fave. He was pleased to see things were starting out right. He grabbed a can and popped the top.
"You need a glass?" The woman asked.
"No. I'm fine." Misha said. The woman handed him a glass. Misha took it and poured in the contents of the can.
The woman put the last dish away and turned to face Misha. "My name's Wendy, and I'm very glad you're here, Misha. I think this will be a lot of fun, and a great growth opportunity for all of us.
"About the house, I've been staying here for a month already, as I moved here from Chicago before I had a place. I'm told something's being arranged for me soon, but until then this is my home. And for now, yours as well.
"Ted moved in last week, so we could put our heads together and work out our plans. And now that you're here, we're complete." Wendy smiled.
"Well... great." Misha tried to muster enthusiasm. It was a feeble attempt. "When's this Ted guy coming?"
"I expect him around five thirty or six. He's going to bring some dinner home. I hope you like pizza."
"Um! Yeah!" Misha replied now with genuine enthusiasm. The difference was notable. "That's cool." He looked around a little. "Is there a TV around here?"
"It's in the living room, dear." Wendy said, making a vague gesture in its' general direction. "Cable and HBO."
"Wicked!" Misha said, quickly leaving the room.
"Use a coaster!" Wendy called after her.
Misha spent the next hour or so flipping up and down the dial of the TV, unable to find much to watch for too long. He was a little put off to find that some channels were locked out, and he couldn't watch anything above a PG-rated program. He'd have to remember to ask Wendy for the code.
It was around six fifteen that the living room lit up with headlights, indicating that a car was pulling up in the driveway. Finally. Dinner.
Misha turned off the TV and got to his feet. The front door made a noise as keys were put into the lock. "Ted's here!" Misha called out to wherever Wendy was.
"See if he needs help!" Wendy hollered back.
The front door bust open and a pile of pizza and bags walked through the door.
"Here. I'll take that." Misha lifted the bag off the top, letting the beast of burden see.
"Thanks." The man said. "Misha?"
"Uh-huh." Misha said, taking the bag into the kitchen.
"My name's Ted Douglas. Good to meet you." Ted said, as he tried to catch up to Misha. He had already advanced into the kitchen.
"Mmmf." Misha replied, his mouth full of the breadsticks he had found in the bag.
"Oh well," Ted said. "We can dispense with all the formalities until after dinner." He rubbed his hands together. "Let's eat!"
After dinner, Misha listened as the two laid out a plan for the rest of the week. It sounded pretty loose and kind of fuzzy on the details, but he figured he could live with it. Wendy and Ted then set down some 'house rules' which he though he'd have a little say in, but instead found that the two had pretty much decided on the way things were going to be. No discussion. Misha would help around the house a little, keep his room straight and wash the dishes every other day. Misha fumed a bit, knowing it wasn't fair at all, but he bit his lip and kept quiet. No sense on ruining the first day.
Ted seemed like a pretty decent person, with a sense of humor and really smart. He also seemed to like Misha as well. Misha figured he could get along with him pretty easily. Wendy was really nice, but just the slightest bit dingy and a little bit of a control freak. But Misha realized she could have done worse.
All in all, he decided he could make it through a week with these people. Only a week, thank God.
Arriving in the morning, every employee was handed a badge attached to a piece of paper. The badge read "Lan-Cor Pride!" with blue & yellow stripes, the company's colors. According to the paper, the fifth period was canceled in favor of a companywide meeting to go over the new morale-boosting program.
Great, Misha moaned in his head. Just what I need. Another meeting. He saw that everyone else was wearing their badges, so he pinned his to his blouse. He had on a pink dress shirt, with the front tails tied together, and a white crop-top underneath. He was also wearing black bicycle pants and white tennis shoes. It wasn't his best outfit, but it did hide his absence of... endowment.
The bike pants were an experiment, as he was worried he wasn't smooth enough in front. But lately, he had seemed to be able to get away with it. And it was the first time he exposed his bellybutton to the world. He was quite proud of it.
He met Mandee at his locker, and they chatted for a while about the mentors. They both agreed the program was stupid, but that they could live with it for the week. Mandee apologized for not phoning back, but the other two junior members of her five-person unit were phone hogs.
Misha complimented his friend on her look for the day, a flirty little blue skirt and a matching fuzzy short-sleeved sweater top that hugged her breasts tightly. Her high-heeled sneakers were a little dated, but they looked great with that outfit. Unfortunately, they also made her taller than Misha.
Misha was jealous of the way Mandee could make herself look older and more grown-up. Misha thought she didn't look a day younger than eighteen.
Mandee excused herself as she needed to catch up with Patty and copy some answers from her. Misha promised to meet up at lunch. He gathered his books and slipped them into his backpack, and decided to go out to the lunchroom where everyone hung out before work formally started for the day.
On the way, Misha got curious about the remodeling of his office, so he went by his old work area. He was disappointed to find the whole place encased in plastic sheeting. He spotted an unattached part of plastic that served as an entrance, and decided to venture forth. After walking for a few dozen feet through the mess of equipment and materials, what greeted him was even more sheeting, making it impossible to get to where his office was supposed to be. So he headed back. But before he got to the exit, he heard voices.
"Shh!" He heard, followed by giggling.
"Someone's going to catch us!" Someone else said.
Misha ducked behind a pile of drywall where he couldn't be seen. But he himself could see plenty. A familiar-looking girl and some guy came tripping in, holding hands.
"Look, babe. Someone's going to know we're missing." The guy said.
He had never seen the guy before, but he had a ripped bod and was really cute. The girl was obviously in heat for this guy, and had started to unbutton her blouse. It was then Misha recognized the long black hair and asian features of his old friend.
"No one's looking yet, dummy. The bell won't ring for another few minutes."
"Okay, Steph. Just don't make any noise this time, huh?"
Misha watched in disbelief as he saw his old pal Steph lock lips with this guy and reach her hand down his pants. He returned the favor by rubbing Steph's breasts.
Misha closed his eyes and tried to think of something else, but the panting and groaning tenaciously attacked his mind, dominating his thoughts. He took another look, watching the two enveloped in total ecstasy, he with her hands down his pants and Steph with her breasts being slowly massaged.
It was still on his mind at lunch when he was eating with Mandee.
"You're still not thinking about that are you?" Mandee asked.
"I told you Steph was a slut." Mandee scolded.
"I know." Misha pouted.
But that wasn't really what was on his mind.
"And that's just totally dumb anyway, y'know? What if they got caught?"
"I know." Misha pouted again.
But that wasn't really what was on his mind.
All Misha could see was Steph's breasts, slooowly being rubbed. So tenderly. So lovingly. God he wanted that.
At which point the bell rung, snapping Misha out of his day dream.
Misha was thankful he didn't have to face Steph in fifth period, and instead was going to the big meeting. He really wasn't sure he could face Steph ever again. Though he'd probably have to do it at some point.
He shuffled into the gymnasium with the rest of the employees and took a seat in the bleachers. Mandee sat next to him, and rolled her eyes silently to indicate how stupid she thought this was.
Without any forewarning, a large banner unfurled itself from the ceiling, proclaiming "Lan-Cor Pride!" Some polite applause followed, with a few catcalls.
Mandee shouted "Get on with it!"
A large video projection screen was rolled out, and the screen lit up with the ever-familiar face of Dr. Dunney. What was it about him? Dr. Dunney was such a nice guy, but he was just so super dull on TV.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the meeting. Today, I would like to announce our new employee morale initiative with our exciting new slogan meow meow meow..."
Well, no, he didn't say 'meow' but he might as well as Misha had already drifted off at that point, tuning out the speech and tuning into a channel only he received.
"LANCER PRIDE!" Shouted the crowd. It snapped Misha right out of his sleep.
"Lancer pride!" Called a girl with a megaphone, leading the crowd.
"LANCER PRIDE!!" Shouted the crowd.
"Let's really hear it!" The girl pleaded.
"LANCER PRIDE!!" The crowd shouted again. Misha noticed Mandee was just as enthusiastic as anyone.
"Woo-hoo!" The megaphone girl said.
The crowd screamed in celebration with various loud cheers. Mandee was jumping up and down wildly, clapping, kicking, and yelling her lungs out. She was way beyond excited. She was practically possessed.
Misha shook his head. Had he missed something? What was this about lancers? And why was everybody acting like idiots?
Misha refocussed his eyes on the banner hanging from the ceiling. It read: "Lancer Pride!" Misha found something really strange about that. He remembered the badge on his blouse and checked it again. It, too, read "Lancer Pride!" Misha was sure that wasn't right. But like so many things lately, it was just out of reach. maybe it was just his imagination.
Mandee grabbed Misha, pulling him to his feet. "Woo-hoo!" Mandee shrieked. Misha smiled politely. "WOO-HOO! LANCER PRIDE!!" Mandee said as loudly as she could, encouraging Misha to join in.
"Yeah!" Misha said to mollify his friend. The crowd was still going wild. Misha still didn't understand what a 'lancer' was.
"LANCER PRIDE NUMBER ONE!!" Mandee shouted.
"Lancer Pride!" Misha yelled. For some reason, it felt good.
"GOOOO LANCERS! WOO-HOO!" Mandee yelled.
Misha started to get into it. "GO LANCERS!"
"WOO-HOO!" Mandee shouted.
"WOO-HOO! LANCERS NUMBER ONE!!" Misha yelled at the top of his lungs.
"LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS!" Mandee started to chant.
"LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS!" Misha joined in, jumping and clapping with all enthusiasm. What was a lancer? He was! They all were! And it was great!
The crowd picked up on it. "LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS!" Misha felt energy surge through him. Good energy. Good feelings. It enveloped him. It felt so good to be here. So good to belong.
"LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS! LAN-CERS!"
He'd been working on it for a while now, and felt silly for not being able to make up his mind. But there just wasn't any way to decide between the yellow oversized sweatshirt & blue skirt with the ice-blue pantyhose or the yellow & blue spaghetti-strap sun dress wit the thigh-length hem. It was driving him batty.
The only thing he had decided on was tying up his hair in a high pony tail with a blue ribbon. It showed off his swan-like neck. A horn outside honked, sending terror into Misha's heart.
"Bus is here!" Wendy called.
Misha had to go with what was on, which was the skirt & sweatshirt combo. That was cool. They were the lancer colors. He jumped into his blue suede stiletto boots and grabbed his backpack, before screaming out into the hallway. At the bottom of the stairs, Wendy was waiting with a lunch bag. Misha grabbed it and kissed Wendy on the cheek. "Thanks!" he shouted as he dashed out the front door.
Once in visibility of the bus, he slowed down to a walk, looking cool and calm as he sashayed his way to the doorway of the big yellow bus.
The occupants of the bus looked unimpressed with Misha's staling, unwilling to wait like this - as they did every single day. Now that it was into it's third week, the act was wearing very thin on everybody.
Misha had been living in the Douglas unit now for that long, and had started to find his mentors to be a little overbearing. He liked them as people and all, and they were really smart, but as members of the group, they were awful. They acted like they owned the place, bossing Misha around for chores, bedtime, what he could watch, when to do assignments. They were practically telling him how to run his life. They had already had a few spats about it, solving nothing. And why was Ted driving in every morning while he had to take the bus? That was just so unfair. And Wendy hadn't put in a day of work in the last two weeks. What was her deal?
As Misha opened his locker, he grabbed the "Lancer Pride" badge and pinned it to his sweatshirt. He checked his hair in the mirror he had put inside the locker door, and found it to still be perfect.
Mandee crept up on him and tapped Misha on the shoulder. "Surprise!" she yelled. Misha turned around to see that Mandee was decked out in a yellow & blue long-sleeved top that read "Lancers" on the front. She had a thigh-length blue skirt with yellow & white striped trim.
"What is that?" Misha asked.
"It's the uniform!" Mandee said.
Misha pushed out her chest with pride. "The Lancer Pride Committee."
"What?" Misha wanted to know. "A committee?"
Mandee was excited. "Uh-huh. See, they set up this committee to motivate and show lancer pride. Weren't you listening during the rally? When you join, you get this cool uniform. Isn't it cool?"
"I want to join!" Misha begged.
"C'mon!" Mandee started down the hall, and beckoned Misha to follow. They walked down a few doors until they found a room with a yellow paper banner over it. "Pride Committee - Sign Up Today!" was written on in blue paint.
Inside it was full of girls in a line, waiting to fill out an application. When Misha made it up front, she was met by a girl who was wearing the same outfit as Mandee, except hers read "Captain" on the shoulder. She was handing out the forms.
When Misha reached out to take the form from the girl, she snatched it back. Misha looked at her in confusion.
"Um, look." The girl said. "Don't even waste your time, kay? I think we're all full."
"Full?" Misha whined.
"Yah. I think we've got as many flat-chested applicants as we need," the girl said with a sneer. "Which is zero."
Misha stood in disbelief. What did this girl just say to her?
The girl wasn't finished. "When you look down I bet the only bumps you see are your knees."
All the girls around started to laugh. Misha was mortified. He fought his way through the crowd and left as fast as he could.
"So?" Mandee asked, waiting for Misha to return.
"They're not taking any more people." Misha said, quietly. "They have all the spots filled." At least one of them should be able to show their lancer pride. If Mandee knew the truth, she'd probably quit in sympathy for Misha. She couldn't allow that.
"Meesh, are you okay?" Mandee said, noting Misha's sadness.
Misha brightened up and put a smile on. "Yeah. I'm good. No big deal."
"Okay. If you're sure."
"Sure I'm sure!" Misha chirped. "Besides, you know how I hate skirts."
They both giggled. "Well.." Mandee said. "As long as you're okay with it." Misha shrugged as if to say it was not that important. "I've gotta get goin'. See you next period!"
Mandee left, with an obvious spring in her step. Misha headed back to his locker. He was doing pretty well until he turned to see Steph passing by. In a Lancer pride uniform. Smiling, happy and carefree. And holding hands with Nick.
Misha went outside and found a nice big tree that she could cry behind.
Misha was lying on his bed, trying to get into his seventh-period studies, but failing miserably. Instead, his head was swimming with ideas.
On a nearby notepad, he scribbled "Why it's great to be a Lancer!" and wrote "Reason #1" And tried to decide what was the absolute coolest part of being a Edenwood Lancer. But before he could get any more thoughts on the idea, Mandee called up to discuss important stuff like clothing coordination and TV shows Misha had missed.
As they gabbed away, Misha scribbled various idle doodles on the notepad, making some Aztec-like faces and dumb little patterns. He started to scribble some circles, making the lines again an again, until they'd nearly break through the paper. He suddenly stopped when he saw what he had just done. On the word Lancer, he had inadvertently transformed the letter "e" to an "o". He stared at the new word. Another unconscious scribble crossed out "it's great to be a". And he changed the exclamation mark to a question mark.
It now read "Why Lancor?" Misha told Mandee he'd call her back.
Lancor. He remembered Lancor. It was the company he... worked... for. He worked? Like a job?
Almost without thinking about it, he scribbled in the answer to 'Reason #1'. "Worked for Lancor?"
Reason number two came just as unnoticed from the tip of the pen. "Changes" He wrote. It had been his biggest worry for so long - all the changes that were happening - now he had almost forgotten about it.
"Memos, mentors and meetings" Misha wrote for number three.
Memos? Yeah. Those stupid memos. He remembered the memos. It was starting to come back to him. His office! He remembered about his office! What ever happened to that?
All these changes... Misha tried to remember all of what was happening. He couldn't fix on many details. But he did know people had changed.
Mandee was so much more.. outgoing. Kev - he had changed. Patty & Karen had changed a lot too. And Steph!
Thinking of Steph only reminded Misha of the scene he had been witness to. The way that boy had rubbed Steph's breasts and kissed her so lovingly.
Misha lost himself, imagining that he was Steph, being held and touched. The gentle swaying and rocking back and forth. Feeling the warmth, smelling the sweat. The movement increases, the energy flows. The breathing gets faster. The moaning. The...
Misha shook himself out of it. Oh God, he thought. He hadn't been affected by all this, had he? He was still the same person he'd always been, right?
He quickly ran over to the bathroom mirror. His long blonde hair was rolling over his milky white shoulders. Misha's slender torso was veiled in a gauzy pink nightie that ended at mid-thigh. It had tiny pink bows lining the hem, neck and cuffs. Through the material, you could only just see the outline of his pink panties, where Misha's long smooth legs started, and down to where they ended in his tiny feet. His pink painted toes wriggled in the pink shag rug on the floor.
He had already wiped off his make-up, but his young face was clean and clear, flushed red in his lips and cheeks. His big blue eyes sparkled in the light, on both side of his tiny nub of a nose. He traced his long pink fingernail along the heart-shaped outline of his chin.
Misha was okay. Sure, there had been one or two changes he had made lately, but it was just a part of growing up and maturing. In the mirror, he started to arch his back, seductively posing for a nonexistent viewer. He did look like he always had. Flat. How was he ever going to be as popular as Steph or even Mandee? He was a big zero. He didn't deserve that kind of attention. Misha felt worthless.
And what about Nick? Misha really wanted to get to know him better. But Misha was so inferior. Nick deserved someone as mature and beautiful as Steph.
Returning to the notepad, Misha looked it over again. It was a bunch a silly ideas, but everything on his pad still made him nervous. Misha ripped off the sheet and crumpled it up. Worrying was just going to kill him.
He turned out the room lights and slid under the sheets of his bed, leaving the bedside lamp on. He decided to lose himself in the book he was supposed to be studying. His eyes focused on the green words and on the red paper. His eyes blurred the pages. The letters. The patterns. Finally, worries left him. The anxiety was gone. He just thought about Nick. He was so cute.
Misha drifted off pleasantly into a deep, trancelike sleep.
"Poo!" Misha said to himself. "Oh, poo!" He tapped random keys on a computer, trying to figure out how to use it. He remembered back when he was able to use a computer with much trouble, but now, it was so mega difficult. Maybe they changed all the computers and made it more complicated. Because he used to be really super good at it.
It was an early morning he was spending at the Edenwood public library, as part of what was called a "field trip" with his second-period group to do some research. The internet terminals looked far more interesting that the books, so Misha headed straight for them upon arrival - he had already found some great Britney sites and listened to the latest download from Aaron Carter.
But once done with that, it was a different type of "research" Misha was doing. After some assistance from one of the people who worked here, he was able to start the internet search engine.
"Stuff that made things change" was Misha's first search that yielded too many results. He tried to simplify his question. "Headake memos" he typed for the next search. "Did you mean HEADACHE memos?" The computer asked. Misha wondered what the difference was. He clicked "yes." It returned no results.
He tried to think hard and really figure out what it was that was bothering him. He just needed to ask the right question. How did it all fit together? The strange changes, the meetings... Lan-cor. That was it! Lan-cor. He typed it in.
"1,451,781 records matched your query," the screen read. Misha made an exasperated growl at the computer, folding his arms and pouting. This was so hard! This internet thingy was dumb.
His outburst attracted the attention of a man reading at a nearby table. Misha thought we was kinda old, at about 25 or 26, but he smiled back when his eyes caught his.
Misha adjusted his miniskirt, drawing attention to it. Misha had picked a micro mini white skirt and a poet's blouse matched with his favorite pair of clear plastic platform slides. He then 'accidentally' dropped his pencil and he made sure he had to bend waaay over as far as possible to pick it up again. When their eyes met again, the man's face had turned beet red. He quickly got up and moved out of Misha's sight. He giggled to himself.
He looked over at another table where two teenage girls were whispering to each other under the pretense of reading something. They were dressed pretty plainly, in just t-shirts and jeans. Didn't they take any pride in their appearance? Were they poor or something? They weren't familiar to Misha, which he thought was odd, because they must have been like fifteen or sixteen. Maybe they went to another...
Why did he think about going to school? He went to college years ago, right? Now he thought he was in school again? That made no sense. Like a thunderclap, Misha's mind opened to a new, terrifying idea. Work was like being back at High School.
Suddenly it all fell into place. Everything could be explained now. The way his friends had changed, the remodeling, the studying, his parents... Oh Jesus Christ.
"No!" he said aloud to the quiet room. Everyone looked. He covered his mouth in embarrassment, then got up and rushed out of the building. Misha had to get away. He ran and ran and ran.
Misha was out of breath by the time he showed up at the house. He saw that something had changed about the mailbox. It read "The Douglases". Oh no.
He ran into the house, up to his room and grabbed everything that was valuable to him. He needed to get out of this town, and away from Lan-Cor. He got his backpack and stuffed in his favorite clothes, his teddy bear, and a picture of Mandee.
Oh, god. Mandee. She had been such a good friend. He had to help her. And all of his old friends as well. Hammy, Kev and especially Gretz. They all needed to get out of this freak show.
He ran back down the stairs only to find Wendy in the way. "I thought I heard someone come in!" She said with a smile. "What in heavens' name are you doing home, dear? Nothing's wrong is it?"
Misha was scared. He knew that this woman was under their influence. "Get away from me!" He yelled, breaking past her to escape.
But the woman managed to break Misha's progress with her arms. "Please, honey. I want to be here for you, like a good mother would."
The words scared him cold. This woman wasn't his mother. He knew that. But still, a sliver of his mind told him that this woman was Mrs. Douglas, the mother he had always loved.
"I don't want to hurt you!" Misha threatened. The woman backed away, scared. Misha burst past her, and flew out the front door. He was a quivering mess of nerves, uncontrollably crying and gasping for air. But he kept running, running for his life.
Misha snuck into the Lan-Cor building unnoticed and made his way to his locker. The bell rang, and suddenly the halls were flooded with people. He was petrified with fear. Could they tell? Did they know? Was someone going to notice that Misha knew the big secret?
Everyone seemed to be acting normally. Or at least how they had been acting lately. Misha stuck his head in his locker to hide.
"Hey!" He heard. He hesitantly looked to see. It was Mandee, at her locker. "I thought you were on the field trippy thing." She asked.
"It's all a plan, Mandee." Misha said nervously. "They're changing Lan-Cor into a High School!"
"What?" Mandee said. "What are talking about? Are you okay?"
"I'm so scared, Mandee." Misha said quietly.
Mandee hugged her friend with both arms. "Let's talk, Meesh. You know I'm here for you." She led the obviously scared and disturbed Misha over into an empty room and calmed him down. "Shhh. Take it easy. Just take a deep breath."
"I've discovered something horrible, Mandee. It's all some sort of twisted plan. We've been put back into High School. Don't you remember? We used to work for a company called Lan-Cor. Now we're being brainwashed or hypnotized... or something. Our bodies are being changed. I don't know how. But we're being turned into High School students."
Mandee's face suddenly went blank. Then her eyes opened wide with surprise. Her hands went to her mouth. She shook her head. "Oh Misha." She said.
Misha found more of his voice. "It's so strange, Mandee. Why would anybody do this?"
"Oh, Misha." Mandee placed her hands on Misha's shoulders and spoke softly and clearly. "But we are High School students Misha. We're the Edenwood Lancers! I mean, what else would we be?"
Misha's face went white with fear.
Mandee headed for the door, and pulled Misha with her. "We'll go to the school nurse. I'm sure she can help." Misha was trying to shake himself out of his living nightmare. Now it was just getting worse. Mandee was gone. Lost. He wrestled his hand free.
"Misha! Wait" Mandee called. "You're not well!"
Misha quickly lost Mandee in the crowd of students, bumping and crashing his way to the end of the hall. There, he saw Hammy and Kev. Hammy was now so much younger than he remembered. His face looked as if it had yet to sprout a single hair. His chubby body was now that of a chiseled adonis, a young man's strapping build. Kev was talking to him, looking rakishly thin. His face, too, looked like it had never seen a beard, and he had developed a severe case of teenage acne. Both wore letterman jackets, with a large "EHS" on the front for Edenwood... High School.
They spotted Misha and waved at him to come over. Scared, Misha bolted away, running at top speed in the emptying hall. The bell rang for the next... class, Misha realized. They were classes - not sessions, not meetings. Classes with teachers and homework. It was overwhelming, all the insidious things that had happened.
Misha had never felt so alone or so afraid.
Misha stopped and recognized where he had wound up. It was where Gretz's office was. It had been altered a little, but he could still identify the familiar spot. He had some hope. Gretz would know what was wrong.
But an awful thought stuck him. Maybe his old friend was a part of the conspiracy. He was pretty high up and important enough. Misha hated to think that Gretz was in some way responsible, but he had to consider it. Hopefully their friendship counted for something.
He found the door, and knocked. "Gretz? You in?"
Opening the door, he saw that the office hadn't changed. It was just as it had always been. Amongst all the chaos, it was still here.
"Hello, Mark." Said the dull, monotone voice of Dr. Jim Dunney. "Would you wait for a moment while I finish up here?" Dunney was seated in front of the desk, staring at Misha. Mark.
Another bolt of lightning stuck his mind with new information. He wasn't Misha at all. His name was Mark. He was 30. He was a guy. The new information frightened him even more. He had to get away. Now. But he couldn't. He didn't know why.
Dunney turned back around and faced the person seated the the desk. It was Gretz. Mark was relieved that he was still the same. "Gretz. You're finished here, aren't you? I think you need to move on now," Dunney said.
"Yes sir." Gretz said. "Yes. I'm finished with the desk. Thank you for letting me... borrow it, sir."
An uncertain look was on Gretz' face. He looked at Mark, puzzled. Then his stare returned to face forward. Gretz slowly reached behind his head and did something with his hand. He shook his head and a long mane of hair fell down onto Gretz' shoulders. Gretz took the hair clip he had just removed and placed it on the desk.
"Anytime." Dr. Dunney said. "Oh. Is that your jacket?"
Gretz looked down at his thick grey double-breasted jacket he was wearing and the puzzled look on his face intensified. "No." He said. "I don't think so."
"You had better take it off, don't you think?" Dunney suggested.
"Yes. I suppose so." Gretz answered. He undid the buttons and then slowly slid himself out of the coat. It revealed a girlishly thin frame wearing a fire red baby-t. His ample cleavage stretched out the word "BABY" written on the shirt in rhinestones. How could Mark have not noticed that Gretz had changed so much?
"Thanks for coming, Gretchen. Now it's time for class, isn't it?"
"Yes sir." Gretz said. Suddenly his puzzled look disappeared. It was like he was recalling a favorite memory or a funny joke. His face started to break into a grin. Then a smile. His eyes widened, and his posture changed. "I'm going to be late for class."
Gretz got up from his chair, and picked up a textbook that had been on the desk. He clutched it to his chest and carried it with with him as he started to leave. Coming from behind the desk, Mark saw that he was wearing skintight black jeans with strappy high heels. He... She looked young and beautiful.
Dunney tore a piece of paper from a pad and handed it to her as she passed by. "There's a hall pass for you Gretchen. I don't want my star pupil getting detention."
"Thank you, principal Dunney." Gretz turned and flashed a friendly smile at Mark. "I'll see you later, Meesh!" She made an effeminate wave. With that, Gretchen strutted out of the room.
At least two or three minutes of silence followed. Dr. Dunney was writing something down in a folder. The scratching sound of his ball-point pen on the paper filled the room. To Mark, it was the loudest sound he had ever head.
Dunney got up and walked around to the other side of the desk and sat himself down in the chair of the former Gretz. "Why don't you... take a seat... Mark." He said, distracted with the task of finding another folder.
Mark was compelled to sit on the chair in front of the desk. He stumbled over to it, not able to fight the command, and then collapsed like a marionette. The warmth left by Dr. Dunney in the chair was both soothing and revolting to Mark.
Dr. Dunney read through what was obviously Mark's file and let out a sigh of disappointment. "Makes me look bad, Mark." He said, cryptically. "I've converted five hundred and forty-six people here at Edenwood into students, faculty and parents." He tapped his fingers on the desk blotter. "You're the only one I've had problems with. Otherwise, perfect."
Mark Tried to move, but he was anchored to the spot. He couldn't even twitch his fingers. Whatever Dunney's control over him was, it was nearly total.
"It was your friend Gretz there that screwed it up." Dunney continued. "He had orders to keep anyone from leaving. But he just had to send you away for three weeks. It's made my job that much harder."
Dunney broke into a grin. "But no need for sour grapes. Largely, this has been an unprecedented success. I should have expected a problem or two."
He leaned back in the huge chair. "The foundation of the program was laid out in the first eleven days. But you weren't here. You're incomplete. Yes, the coffees and sodas have altered your body and the subliminals have made the larger changes in your personality and memories, but the foundation was never set."
"I only have one way to deal with this situation now." Dunney said, getting up out of the chair and facing away from Mark. "Your cooperation. I can't go back and completely wipe out your memories." Dunney turned quickly to pierce Mark with his gaze. "I need you on board willingly, Mark."
Mark waited for a moment before he realized that an answer was needed. "No." Mark said, meekly.
"Really." Dunney said, folding his arms. "You know, the original make-up of the Edenwood division was 63 percent male, 37 percent female. I needed to get to 51 percent female at the least. So we had to select amongst the available male employees which ones were the likeliest gender conversions."
"You came in at number three." Dunney put his hands in his pockets and faced the wall again. "Heck, you were so close you might have just spontaneously turned into a woman on your own." Dunney laughed at his own joke.
"You're not very happy with your body, are you Mark?" Mark stirred in his seat. "You're not as developed as the other... girls. You're like a child. In a world of grown women."
Mark's eyes started to tear. How the heck had Dunney known this? Could they read minds? It didn't matter. He wasn't interested in it anymore.
"A little baby." Dunney continued. "An unsophisticated little baby. Or worse. A freak."
"No." Mark muttered. "It's not i-i-important. A-a-a-anymore."
"No?" Dunney said condescendingly. "No? Well, I guess there's no point in offering you.. this." Dunney produced a syringe from inside his jacket, and put it on the desk. "Call it a... booster shot. You would have gotten it if you hadn't been in Mexico. It was in the coffee cups numbers 23-56 for everyone else. You never got it." Mark shut his eyes closed tight. He refused to even look at this man.
"What size would you like to be? A? B? C? D? Maybe a double-D. That would look so nice on you, wouldn't it?"
"I'm sure Nick... would like that, wouldn't he?" Mark's closed eyes shot open at the name. "He'd rub those massive fleshy tits of yours and get you off like a real woman."
His dreams. They knew about his dreams. Mark tried to hold it in, but despite his best efforts, he let out a soft feminine gasp. He knew it had given him away, so he quickly added, "No."
"Still no? You drive a tough bargain there, Mark." Dunney turned around and sat on the corner of the desk, directly across from Mark's anguished face.
"You know can I control a lot of things at Edenwood. The very fabric of reality here is virtually at my discretion. I can make some changes."
No. Mark didn't want any more changes. He tried to drown out Dunney's voice, to think of something else.
"Would you like more friends? More attention?" Dunney's voice became conspiratorial. "I can make you the most popular person in school. Every eye on you. Drinking in your beauty. Your perfection."
Dunney leaned over to get as close as possible. "They laughed at you, Mark. They all laughed at you. I can change that."
Mark tensed every muscle in his body. Dunney was playing his emotions like a piano. But he wasn't going to give in. It was his advantage. They needed him to succeed, and we wouldn't let them.
Dunney's tone suddenly changed to a very businesslike attitude. "Mark, I'm not going to let you play games with me. My offer is on the table. Either you accept it, or we're going to have to take some very unpleasant and extreme measures."
"You have one minute."
Mark was faced with a choice of horrors. But the only thing that he would let himself do was stop this insanity. These were his coworkers and friends, and he was the last hope. If he could get out of here, get to the authorities and tell them his story... He had to try.
"Yes. I accept." Mark said.
Dunney's expression didn't change. "Of course you will, Mark. It's really the only thing left." Dr. Dunney picked up the syringe and let a little of the fluid squirt out the top. He flicked the clear chamber to get rid of the air bubbles. "I think we agreed on double-D's, didn't we?"
Dunney positioned himself at Mark's side. "Now put out your arm and make a fist."
Mark found the control of his arm come back to him. An inspiration born of total desperation suddenly came. He stuck out his arm, swiping the syringe from Dunney's hand.
"What!?" Dunney said in shock.
Quickly, he threw his arm out sideways and knocked the surprised Dunney to the floor. As he fell, Mark gripped Dunney's clothes to pull himself along for the ride.
Mark found himself lying on top of the man with the syringe in hand. He was still incapable of moving his body, but he now had a chance.
"Mr. Parnell!" Dunney huffed. "This is not..." Dr. Dunney's head turned to find Mark had placed the syringe at his temple. He froze. Looking at Mark in the eyes, he only saw determination and hatred. Dunney should have been nervous, but his voice was disturbingly confident. "If you think that that chemical cocktail will have much of an effect on me, I can assure you it won't." Dunney smiled. "I take regular inoculations to make sure I can't be affected by it."
It was Mark's turn to smile. "That's not what I was thinking." He squoze the syringe, emptying it of the liquid. It spilled all over the side of Dunney's head. He then pulled back the plunger, leaving the chamber empty, except for air. "A little oxygen in your bloodstream. If I remember my sixth period health class right, this is really quite deadly, once it hits your brain."
Dr. Dunney's skin drained of color and started to sweat. He tried to speak, but found his throat suddenly dry. "I could just freeze your hand, just by telling you." He managed to say.
"Go ahead. Maybe It'll take before I can push the syringe in." Mark found a little bit of gallows humor in the situation. "You wanna race?"
Dr. Dunney's mouth opened and closed, gasping for air, like a fish on the deck of a boat. He was a beaten man. He had never prepared himself for this moment, so confident he was of victory. He had no words to say. And he wasn't capable of begging. "My offer still stands, Mark." Dunney was playing his last card.
Mark enjoyed watching the man's desperation.
"Just think about it." Dunney pleaded. "You're passing up a bright future. The friends, the parties, the respect. The sex." His voice gained confidence. "You think you can go back now, Mark? Lookig like you do, do you think anybody will hire you now? Will anybody love you now? Can you really go back?"
Dunney spoke deeply and slowly. "Take the offer Mark. Take it. Think about it clearly Mark, that's all you need to do."
Mark's brow furrowed.
Misha sat at her desk bopping her head to a song she had in her tiny brain. Her platinum blonde ponytails at either side of her head flipped wildly as she did. She scooted in her seat to keep her cheerleader's skirt from creasing. She had to do it constantly, because it was so short and flippy that it would ride up under her. It would also flash her panties to the whole wide world, but she was more worried about the unsightly crease.
Misha popped open the top of her cherry lip gloss and rubbed it onto her lips heavily. Mom & Dad wouldn't let her wear lipstick until she was sixteen. So until then, it was cherry lip gloss and strawberry perfume. She loooved the taste of the lip gloss and ran her tongue along her bee-stung lips constantly to taste it all the time. She'd go through a tube a day. She'd apply it, lick it off and apply it again. But it was so yummy.
Once done, she dropped it in her tiny purse and clasped the purse shut. She thought of the song again, and it made her happy. What a great beat!
It reminded her of last night at the basketball game where she and Mandee and Gretch and Steph and the rest of the JV squad were leading the crowd. The techno was pumping as they kicked, jumped and strutted to the music. Being a cheerleader was the absolute coolest, greatest thing ever ever ever. She loved the energy she felt and she really liked the dancing. Best of all she liked to shake and shimmy her body in front of all the cute guys and old men in the stands, letting them see her great ass and luscious boobies. Even her Daddy seemed to like that.
Then after the game, it was time to celebrate. Sure, the EHS Lancers had lost the game, but Misha couldn't hold that against her Nick. He was trying so hard. And besides, if she couldn't celebrate than she'd never get the chance to suck Nick off. She recalled how Nick had pumped her so full of juice last night. Misha's rule was the more he had, the more he loved her!
Nick reciprocated by fondling her huge titties, rubbing them, caressing them and licking them. It was soooo great. It was like the coolest feeling.
And after summer vacation was over, she'd be back in the fall as a Sophmore and all girl. She'd get so fucked.
Speaking of which, Misha looked around the room to see all the male eyes on her. She was being watched, but then she was always being watched. That was just part of being mega popular. She leaned back in her chair, spreading her legs wide slowly. She saw the guys dip their heads to get a peek, but as they did, she clenched her legs back together. Misha then pretended to be oblivious to the games, as she blew a big pink bubble of chewing gum.
Mandee whispered in her ear from behind. "Hey, are you like ready for this y'know? Do you think it'll be hard? I think it'll be hard!"
Misha twisted around. "No way, this'll be like a total breeze. Don't get all y'now, like so wierded out about it!" Mandee clenched her teeth in mock anguish, and threw a little pretend fit to show how nervous she was. Her blonde permed hair danced around her head, a strand getting stuck on her pink lips.
She was in an identical blue & yellow cheer uniform as the one Mandee was wearing: a super-short yellow skirt with blue pleats combined with a sleeveless white & yellow top. It bared her midriff and was cut deep in the neck to show off her cleavage. The top had "Lancers" written in blue script diagonally across the front with a picture of a megaphone. Of course, it was Misha's uniform that bore the word "captain" on the shoulder.
Yes, Mandee looked great, but she couldn't hold a candle to the beauty of Misha. Misha was sculptured perfection, delicate and soft. Her body curved like a coke bottle - sleek, thin and graceful. Her huge blue eyes were always wide open and alert, as if someone had just whispered a dirty joke in her ear. Slender limbs moved slowly and enticingly, to lure men into her web. And Misha's infectious giggle was like tinkling glass, a song that felt like cool water on a summer's day.
Mandee pointed to the door, where the slim window revealed principal Dunney about to enter. Both girls faced forward and straightened up. Misha took her gum out of her mouth and stuck it under the desk. She put on her brightest smile. It was important to be on your best behavior of principal Dunney. He was such a great man.
Misha's legs were jogging in place, trying to dissipate the boundless energy that she was full of. So much so that her attention would flitter from item to item in microseconds. She just couldn't concentrate on any one thing - and she didn't care. It wasn't worth worrying about anything anymore. Whatever happened, happened. Whatever she wanted to do, she did. She felt so liberated. It was great to be a girl.
The door opened and principal Dunney came in with a stack of papers. It was about time! She had been waiting here for like at least four minutes! She was gonna go crazy!
The papers were handed down each aisle and Misha took hers and passed it on. It was the national standards test, so it wasn't like it really counted as a grade or anything, but the whole school had studied really extra hard for it. They had spent tons and tons of time on studying just this test. Misha was sure she'd ace it.
"Take your time, remember to fill in each dot completely with your number two pencil." Principal Dunney said at the front of the class. "You've been prepared as best you can for this, so don't be nervous."
Misha checked her pencil again for the tenth time in the last few minutes to make sure it was a number two. She kept forgetting the answer. She then filled in her name on the test, "Misha Douglas" in large looping script.
Dunney went on. "Now as you might be aware, this is the test that I tried to develop a strategy for when I was the head of the President's education initiative last year. I was never given a chance to use my teaching techniques until now, and I'm looking forward to the results. I suppose you kids are kind of like guinea pigs in my great experiment - so to speak."
Misha had already started on the test, filling out the circles almost without reading the questions - like it was implanted in her brain.
"I've gone through some pretty elaborate and difficult means to get to this point, but I'm very sure it will validate my ideas." Principal Dunney one more thing to say. "But really, when you get down to it, it's more than just testing a theory. It's about personal vindication."
© 2002 by Joe Six-Pack. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, compilation design) may printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without express written consent of the copyright holder.