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Silberman's Books. Sunday, February 8th, 2015. 10:00am


A small printed sign was taped to the inside of the front door window:




Shop owner Lynn Epstein was nervously pacing up and down in front of the the bar, her staff mostly seated around the main table in the middle of the sales floor; due to the step up into the older part of the store, this meant they were all looking down on her somewhat.


Great; I already feel like I'm on trial.


Kiki came from around from behind the bar, occasionally casting a reassuring look towards her friend and employer as she carried a tray with coffee and doughnuts to the table; she was the only one who fully knew what was going on, though some of the others might have a few guesses.


Clearing her throat, Lynn finally began. "Uh, hey guys; thanks for coming in a little early today. I don't know how long this will take or...anything, really, so I figured it would be best if we just...well..."


Her employees shifted uneasily and exchanged concerned glances; normally Lynn was not this tongue-tied. Sensing their nervousness, the petite brunette suddenly held up her hands.


"Nobody's getting fired, if that's what you're thinking, and the store's not closing, either; all of you still have a job."


"Where's Mrs. N," asked Cred0; typically he'd work with her on Sunday afternoons. This led to new murmurs of concern; the beloved Jewish grandmother was elderly, so it was certainly possible-


Lynn rubbed her face and sighed. "No, Mrs. Nussbaum is fine, that's not why we're here." She sagged back against the bar for a few seconds, suddenly feeling very, very old; but then she took a deep breath and seemed to reinflate. With great effort, she met everyone's gaze, one after the other. "Look, I have a confession to make; several, actually. We've been working together side by side for six months now; we might not all be best friends, but I think we've bonded a bit, right? And some of you might have seen things or heard things, and I think it's time to set the record straight. Because friends don't keep secrets from each other."


She paused, closed her eyes and shook her head. "I'm...not human." She grimaced and spread her arms wide. "There, I said it."

Edited by Heritage
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This statement led to a wide variety of reactions. Cred0 was absolutely gobsmacked, like he'd been smashed in the face by a two by four. Lance began to laugh, thinking it was some bizarre joke. Maddy let out a long sigh of relief, happy to no longer have to keep a secret. Tona said nothing, as always keeping her thoughts to herself. Kiki appeared to be proud of her friend, as though she'd made a breakthrough at a group therapy session. And Gretchen raised two fists in triumph and declared, "Yes! I knew it!"


Lynn held up her hands as she tried to restore some kind of order. "Now I'm sure you probably have a lot of questions, but before we move forward, I feel the need to make another confession, and this one...this is not something I'm proud of. At all." She pointed at the resident computer expert, who still hadn't said a word. "You asked about Mrs. N, Cred0, so now I'll tell you; there is no Mrs. Nussbaum, and there never was." The shopkeeper jabbed a thumb into her chest and hung her head in shame. "I'm Mrs. Nussbaum."


This time the reaction was much stronger, because no one had an inclination, not even Kiki; Lance's laughter took on a hysterical edge, and there was much anger and disbelief. "That's not true, you're a liar!" yelled Cred0, on the verge of tears.


"Did you ever see us in same room together," Lynn asked calmly.


There was some murmured discussion before Lance finally found his voice. "But that's...that's impossible, you're two different-"


Suddenly Lynn was surrounded by pale swirling mist, which parted to reveal the familiar form of Mrs. Nussbaum; she wore the same look of shame the young shop owner wore. "Two different what?" No one spoke as Lynn resumed her normal shape, eyes cast downward. "It was never supposed to go that far; it started as a sort of weird...private joke, and then-"


"You lied to us!" This was Kiki, tears of rage and disappointment streaming down her face. "Every day, you lied to us; how could you?"


The changeling shrugged, clearly pained at the sight of her friend's anguish. "I don't know; I honestly don't know. We do these things because we can, I guess, monsters like me..." She took a deep breath, then trudged on forward. "Look, if you never want to see me again, I don't blame you; I'm telling you all these things because I know they're wrong, and you have a right to know them." She turned and picked up a stack of envelopes from on top of the bar. "I have an envelope here for each one of you; each contains a glowing letter of recommendation and a check for five thousand dollars, to cover rent and stuff. If you want them, they're yours; if you want your job, you can have that, too. The choice is yours; all I ask is that you please not share what you learned today with anyone outside this room." Lynn stepped to one side as she put them back on the bar.


For a moment, no one at the table said anything, as the employees looked first at their boss, then the pile of checks, and then each other.

Edited by Heritage
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"F### this." Cred0 was up on his feet, jumping down the step to get a little in Lynn's face as he grabbed the envelope with his name. He ripped it open to check the contents; satisfied, he turned to head out the front door, but stopped with his hand on the doorknob as he glared back at his former employer. "You're sick, you know that?"


Lynn nodded sagely. "Yes, I am aware of that, Stephen." It was the first time she'd ever used his real name.


The young hacker slammed the door on the way out. The changeling hoisted herself onto the bar, her legs idly dangling down. "So, any other takers? Five thousand is a lotta bread."


Gretchen looked at the others, then nervously held up her hand. "Uh, just so we're clear, are we allowed to take the five thousand and keep our jobs?"


Lynn nodded slowly. "Yes, that is allowed."


Gretchen, Lance and Maddy looked at each other, then bolted to the bar and eagerly snatched up their checks, making happy noises as they read their letters, which were indeed glowing. Lynn watched them, trying to gauge their reactions. "Sooooo, staying, going...?" All three said 'Staying!' at ths same time, then laughed. The changeling cocked her head to one side. "You guys aren't freaked out by the whole...non-human thing?"


Lance shrugged. "Well yeah, a little bit, but I like it here; I like my coworkers, I like my job. My boss may be a hideous space mutant, but hey, she gave me a big-ass check!" He laughed, then got a bit more serious. "Look, you did something weird and wrong, and that is a little scary, but you told us the truth and you feel bad about it; that counts for a lot with me."


Maddy smiled. "I trust you." She held up the check. "Thanks for this; we can really use it."


Gretchen just shook her head. "Yeah, you're a terrifying freak of nature. I just hate job hunting in this economy."


The three of them headed out, enthusiastically discussing their plans for their 'hush money', as they called it. That just left Tona and Kiki.

Edited by Heritage
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While Tona considersd her choice, Kiki and Lynn said nothing to each other; the changeling was still seated on the bar, idly picking at the wood with a thumbnail, while one of her oldest friends just stared at her from her seat, arms folded tightly across her chest. They stayed like that for a few minutes before Lynn finally cleared her throat and gestured towards the door everyone used to leave.


"They, uh...nobody had any questions; kinda surprised by that."


Kiki's voice dripped with ice when she replied, "Well you gave them all big checks; that kind of shuts people up."


Lynn buried her face in her hands. "Look, Keek, I know-"


"You said you hadn't changed."


That stopped the faeling in her tracks. "What?"


"You said you were the same girl who rode with me to the hospital when I broke my leg. But you're not, are you?"


"No...I guess I'm not."


The dancer pulled off her baseball cap and began rubbing the visor with her thumbs as she stared blankly at the logo. "I kept your damn secret; I didn't tell anyone, not even Rob." She and Rob had been together for five years. "And then you created this-" Kiki waved her hand vaguely in the air. "Bizzare character, to do what, spy on us? Learn our secrets?" She laughed without humor and shook her head. "I'm never going to watch 'Mrs. Doubtfire' again."


Lynn smiled sadly and shook her head in response. "Don't say that; that's a really good movie." She picked up one of the envelopes and hopped off the bar, then took a seat next to her friend. "Look, I know I'm probably insane; I do these things, but...I never meant to hurt you, or hurt anyone. I know it's hard to be my friend; all the stuff I've asked you to do, the weirdos marching in here... And I know it's not fair. But I am really, really sorry; you have no idea how much this hurts."


Kiki stopped sobbing and kneading her cap to look up at Lynn, who was crying now, too; she reached up and rubbed away a tear from the changeling's cheek with her thumb, then stared down at it. "Is this real? Are you really crying, or is that just pretend, too?"


"One hundred percent real, kid; straight from our factory to you."


That made the dancer laugh, which brought on the tears in earnest. Lynn reached over and pulled her into a hug; it was part mom-hug and part friend-hug, and it was warm and strong and fierce. She rocked them back and forth as she murmured, "I'm so sorry, honey; I'm so sorry..."

Edited by Heritage
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Tona stood in the back of the room, quiet and withdrawn through Lynn's confession. She already knew about her employer's secret habit, and despite what her girlfriend thought Tona didn't regard it as very important. She had gone to Claremont with much weirder folks, though most of them didn't furnish their home by imagining it. As far as Tona was concerned, what Lynn could and couldn't do was her own business.

Though the Mrs. Nussbaum thing bothered her. She hadn't interacted with the old woman enough to have such a strong reaction as Cred0, but she did understand how it felt to have a loved one, a person you trusted and relied upon, revealed to be an entirely different individual than you thought they were. She understood betrayal, and she understood why Cred0 was so angry when he left. Even if she was the sort of person to try and change a person's mind with words, she would not have tried to stop the young man.

When almost everyone had left, Tona walked up to the table and picked up the envelope with her name on it. She was much more interested in the letter than the money; she still didn't have much of an appreciation for the money, but she did wonder what positive things Lynn would say about her. She turned the envelope over in her hands a few times before looking at the older woman. "You shouldn't have lied about being someone else," she said, "but as long as you are yourself, then it is fine." She stopped, and peered closely at Lynn. "You are still yourself, right?"

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Lynn untangled herself from Kiki and looked up at Tona as she wiped the tears from her cheeks with the heel of her hand. "I dunno...I guess so? God, I've been so many people, I've lost track..." She handed Kiki her envelope, got up and poured herself a cup of coffee from the serving tray. Kiki contemplated the envelope, turning it over in her hands.


"But if you're talking about my heart, then yes, I am the same; I guess as long as I feel like crap whenever I do something stupid or manipulative, there's hope for me yet." She began her ritual of despoiling her coffee with loads of cream and sugar.


Meanwhile Kiki got up, clutching the unopened envelope to her chest, and shouldered her bag as she headed for the front door; her eyes were still wet with tears, but at least she was smiling. "See you tomorrow."


Lynn nodded and raised her mug in salute. Her coffee now thoroughly tainted, the changeling slurped it loudly as she took a seat on edge of the table; she peered at Tona over the top of her cup. "Do you have any other questions?"

Edited by Heritage
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The Next Morning


Most. Awkward. Monday. Ever!


On the surface, nothing had changed beyond a few adjustments to the schedule, but of course everything had changed, at least in terms of the employer-employee dynamic. Kiki had not yet forgiven her friend's deception, which was completely understandable; to be honest, Lynn wasn't sure their friendship would ever recover, another casualty of her mercurial nature. Of course her assistant manager could not ignore her completely, but all their interactions were brief, superficial and painfuly forced.


On the other hand, Gretchen seemed to be fascinated by her boss, and her eyes rarely left Lynn as they tracked her movements around the store, which made the fey very uncomfortable. The barista/cashier had also started muttering 'spaaaaace mutant' under her breath when she walked by, which the changeling's sensitive ears heard every single time. Finally an exasperated Lynn marched straight up to the bar and slapped her clipboard down in front of the younger girl, making her jump; when she spoke, the store owner's words came out as a frustrated hiss.


"Okay, look, for the record, I am not a f###ing 'space mutant', whatever the hell that is; I am a dark Winter Court faerie, like Maleficent from 'Sleeping Beauty' or David Bowie from 'Labyrinth'. They're two entirely different things." She lifted up her hair to reveal one of her pointed ears. "See?"


A wide-eyed Gretchen looked shocked and ashamed. "Yes, ma'am."


"Good!" Lynn started to storm back to her office, but then she stopped herself; partly it was because Gretchen had never called her 'ma'am' before, but also because something the girl had said yesterday came back to her. Turning on her heel, she studied her cowed employee.


"You knew."


That snapped the girl out of her shock. "What?"


"Yesterday when I made my big announcement, you cried out 'Yes, I knew it'". The changeling stepped back to the bar and rested her arms on it. "How did you know?"


Gretchen appeared to consider her next words very carefully. "Uh, well, I knew you weren't human, or at least suspected it." She shrugged uncomfortably. "I mean, I thought you were a time-travelling robot who ran on coffee, but the underlying theory was sound."


"What gave me away?" She was genuinely curious.


The barista nervously pulled a notebook out from under the bar. "If it would please the court..." She flipped a few pages in and cleared her throat. "You never get sick. Ever. You never go to the bathroom, not even to text. You're normally very generous, but when you eat, you go to your office and never share. Conversely, when someone else is eating, you get this wistful look in your eye, but when they offer you a bite, you politely refuse. Sometimes when you talk, you sound like my grandmother. You speak too many languages." She paused to look up at Lynn before licking her lips and continuing. "Um, you have perfect skin. Your clothes always fit perfectly, and you have perfect hair. You always smell really good." She began to close the notebook, but then quickly reopened it. "Oh, and you really like coffee. Like, way too much." She closed the notebook again and primly folded her hands over it. "Here endeth my observations."


Lynn was stunned; for several seconds, she couldn't say a damn thing. At last, she managed a heartfelt "Huh!"


Gretchen shrugged apologetically. "Journalism major for three semesters". Her employer could only shake her head in amazement as she wandered back to her office and closed the door. The barista let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding, and robotically returned to her work. "Nope, not at all awkward..."

Edited by Heritage
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Wednesday, February 11th, 2015. 12:48 pm


Gretchen waited until there was no one else in the store to knock on the door to Lynn's office, spiral notebook in hand.


"Come in, Gretch."


She knows it's me; not at ALL creepy!


The tiny retail veteran poked her head in and smiled nervously. "Do you have a minute?"


Her boss grinned and waved her in. "Yeah, sure, come in; I can keep an eye on the store from here."


Gretchen took a seat and shifted about in the soft leather chair, idly running fingers through her hair. "So, uh...I get bored easily working here, mostly because I don't like people very much. So when I should be working, I've been doing Google searches on you, both as yourself and under Grimalkin, your hero name. And I've been talking to Kiki some, too."


Lynn frowned, clearly not seeing where her employee was going with this. It took a few seconds for Gretchen to work up the courage to close her eyes and blurt out what she felt had to be said.


"You're not a very good superhero."


That caught the changeling by surprise. "I'm sorry?"


"Since you've come back, you haven't done very much for Freedom." Gretchen flipped through her notes. "I mean, you did some things in Central America and Belgium, for some reason, but really not much around here."


A suddenly defensive Lynn began to sputter In protest. "Wait, wait, I did that haunted house thing back in October; that was huge!"


"Yes, and it was adorable, but what about crime? What about keeping this city safe?" Gretchen stood up and nodded. "I think you've overextended yourself between the store, going back to school and all your trips to Belgium. I think-"


"That was one time!"


"That you need a full-time personal crime-fighting assistant. And that would be me."



Edited by Heritage
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"So I went over your record, or at least the public record, and it seems to me you do your best work when you're part of a team, like with Nightrival, the Knights or the Interceptors. I'm also assuming your time off-planet with Colt was productive."


That unintentionally struck a nerve. "Yes, quite...productive." If Gretchen heard the catch in her throat, she ignored it.


"I've also watched you around the store, and you're not so great with tech. I mean, I assume you can program a DVR or run Microsoft Office, but that's about it."


This was starting to get annoying. "Actually, I can pilot spacecraft, up to a G-class Martian 'Intrepid'; can you do that?"


That actually did catch the girl by surprise, and she looked suitably impressed. "No, I cannot. That's actually pretty cool. I'll add that to the list. 'Starfleet...captain'..." After writing it down, she cocked an eyebrow and pointed at her boss with her pen. "Ah, but can you repair a spaceship?"


Now she had her; Lynn started to speak, but had to catch herself. "I, well-" She sighed and looked down at her hands. "Colt handled all the repairs..."


"And there's no shame in admitting that. I have no fashion sense and I hate dogs. So, moving on, I've come up with a list of suggestions that I think will improve your heroic efforts."


As the young woman began to go through a check list of very sound ideas, Lynn was completely (though pleasantly) surprised; Gretchen was revealing previously unknown depths! And the girl was thorough. When she finally got to the end, she capped her pen and set it and her notebook aside. "So, what do you think?"


"I think you got the job! Why haven't you worked this hard for me before?"


Gretchen shrugged as she grabbed a handful of Skittles out of the bowl on Lynn's desk. "I was bored. I like a challenge." Then she smiled as she popped some in her mouth, perhaps the first genuine smile Lynn had ever seen her smile. "You finally challenged me."

Edited by Heritage
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