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Popularity Contest
by Amanda Fletcher

      Stephanie poked at her French fries and burger. They hadn’t had the same appeal as when she ordered them. She was seventeen, still didn’t have a boyfriend, or even lost her virginity. She was plain, wore glasses, and dressed like she didn’t care about her looks anymore. Maybe because she didn’t. She’d stopped caring sometime after fifth grade when she’d been labeled a ‘nerd’. It was a title she could never get rid of.
      It wasn’t her fault. She was good at math and science. English and History she was ok at, but still managed to pull down Bs, and had been on Honor Roll, since well, she could remember. It was her senior year, and prom was coming up soon. No one had asked her. Not even the nerd guys. They were probably too shy. And the one boy she did like, Will, wouldn’t even give her the time of day.
      At lunch she always sat alone. She didn’t really like her fellow nerds. They were always talking about science fiction or fantasy games, or something interesting. Even a few of the girls seemed to like it. Stephanie was into music. She was goddess on bass, though she’d never been able to get a band. Getting up on stage, ugh. The thought sent chills up her spine.
      If there was anything she could have, it would be to be popular and confident in herself. She felt a twisting feeling, like she was on a carnival ride that was some sort of demented taffy pull. She screamed with pain, and then as soon as it started, it was over. Something was different, yet not. Stephanie shook her head and got off her bed. Her music collection had changed. Scorpions had turned into Brittney Speares, it was all modern pop. But she was supposed to like modern pop, wasn’t she?
      Her bedroom looked different too, instead of sullen and dark, it looked pretty and girly. She rushed to her closet. Her wardrobe was awesome. Beautiful sweaters, dresses, tops, skirts and jeans. It felt right. Her cell began to ring. Genevieve? But Gen hated her. She answered the phone. “Umm Hi?”
      “Sheesh, is that any way to greet your best friend? Anyway, I like so got this awesome dress for prom” She yammered on about clothes. This felt odd, but right too. She lay down on the bed and started chattering like Gen had been her friend since kindergarten. They talked about how excited Gen was about taking Steve to the prom and Steph’s boyfriend Marcus from the football team. Marcus? Football team? Normally the jocks wouldn’t give her the time of day. Only the fact she was a girl had kept them from shoving her inside lockers. Now she was going to prom with Marcus? Creepy. Still she’d always admired Marcus’s looks from afar and he didn’t seem like the others. She thought he’d even smiled at her once. But that was probably a dream. But… now they were dating? When did that happen?
 

      Jana pulled up outside the town on her motorcycle. A sign read ‘Welcome to Palo Alto’. She wrinkled her nose. “It looks snotty. Sylvia? Are you sure this is it?” The town looked like a modern suburb. She did not want to go in there if she didn’t have to. When Sylvia didn’t answer Jana poked at her, sometimes she was like this. “Sylvia? Are you umm… awake?” She almost said alive, but somehow Sylvia didn’t seem like that’d amuse her.
      “What, Jana?” Sylvia wasn’t in a particularly good mood. They had been riding most of the day, and not exactly through the best places.
      “Are you sure this is it? I don’t like this place.” Jana complained.
      Sylvia focused her magic. She was tired from keeping the bike running. She received the familiar ping of a wish stone holder. “Yes, Jana. As far as I can tell, this is it. What’s wrong with it anyway? Open my box so I can see.”
      Jana pulled out Sylvia’s box and opened it so the skull could see the suburb. “Jana you aren’t going to be able to run around dressed like that.”
      “But all I have is the ripped up clothes from chasing that guy around. Besides I like the skins.” She was not changing. Her mind was made up.
      “Suit yourself. But everyone’s going to treat you like you’re either insane or a freak. Perhaps even both. At the very least put your dagger away. We don’t need attention from local police.” If Jana wasn’t going to take her advice she’d just have to learn the hard way. She could be unnecessarily stubborn sometimes. Jana would learn in time. Or she wouldn’t. Sylvia hoped very much for the former. She went back to keeping the tank full.
      Jana begrudgingly put the dagger away before riding through town and as Sylvia had said, everyone was staring at her. Children pointed, as their parents pushed them on, trying to ignore the crazy woman on the motorcycle. Guys smirked or outright laughed at her. Jana tried to ignore them. Her stomach began to rumble. When was the last time she’d eaten? She spotted a pizza place, and then circled around the block a few times before finally finding a parking spot.
      Now that the bike’s motor was off, she could hear the whispers, and the laughs more clearly. Jana was determined to ignore them. She walked inside the pizza parlor, with a false aire of confidence. She wasn’t going to let these jerks get to her. People stared as she walked in a group of teenaged girls with their boyfriends burst out laughing. “Oh. My. God. I so did not know deerskins were in this season.” One of the girls said. This prompted another round of laughing.
      Jana walked up to the counter. The clerk just stared at her. This was starting to get uncomfortable. “Umm… can I get… a slice of the sausage and pepperoni?”
      The clerk nodded uncertain. The transients didn’t usually come in here. “Uh.. sure.. would you like a drink with that?” The words came automatically. He just wanted her to go away. As Jana nodded “Ok… that’ll be 5.25. Is that for here or to go?” When Jana indicated here, he closed his eyes and just tried to push down the laughter.
       Digging around in her backpack, Jana checked the pouch her money was in. She handed him the last 5 and a quarter she had of any money from the old world. Allowance that was left over? She forgot where she’d come by it. The clerk took the bill like it was diseased and shoved it quickly into the register before pulling a glass and setting it in front of her. Then he wandered off to do, anything else.
      The slice was up quick on a tray. Jana got her soda, and wandered to a table. “Well at least it can use a soda machine”, one of the guys at the table of teens said, loud enough for Jana to hear. More laughter. Jana was starting to get mad at these guys. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone?
      Jana began to eat her slice and one of the girls made another snarky comment. That was it. Jana got up from her table and stormed over to theirs. They all looked at her trying to hold in laughter. “What is your problem?” Jana growled at them.
      “Oh god… it’s feral!” Stephanie said. That didn’t feel right to her. She always got picked on at school in that other world, was it ok for her to pick on this kid? Well the other people in her clique were, especially Will. So it must be ok. At the comment the whole group busted out laughing again.
      Jana slammed her fist into the table. “Make one more stupid comment. I dare you.”
      One of the boys got up. The guy could be a linebacker. “You got a problem little girl? Cuz I can make some problems for you.”
      She wasn’t backing down. No matter what this idiot did. “Screw you, stupid jerk. I suggest you back off.”
      The guy pushed Jana. She stumbled back a few steps. Stephanie was getting worried. “Steve, leave her alone. This is going too far.”
      “No… the little bitch started this. I’m gonna finish it.” He glared back at Jana, challenging her to the fight.
      Instinct got the better part of common sense. Jana leaped at him and with strength that belied her smaller form, tackled him onto the table. The attack threw Steve off a moment, and Jana landed a punch on his jaw while his guard was down. Steve shoved Jana off him, but she nimbly landed on her feet. Years of hunting her own food, wasn’t going to let some punk teenager beat her. “She’s fucking crazy!” He yelled. His jaw was sore from the punch. “I’m gonna kill the little bitch!” Stephanie, Gen, and Marcus grabbed him and held him back.
      The clerk watched the scene wide eyed a moment before getting the manager. The manager walked out onto the floor yelling. “Out of here, all of you, before I call the cops.”
      Steve shrugged off his friends, and pointed at Jana. “Next time you little skank, you aren’t gonna be so lucky.” Steve stormed out with the group right behind him. Stephanie gave a worried glance back to Jana before she followed her friends out.
      Jana grabbed her slice and began eating it as she headed for the door. She heard the manager grumble about stupid kids. She almost turned around and decked him too, but the threat of the police kept her rage in check. “Stupid Jerks.” She sighed. Sylvia was right. If she was going to even remotely fit in, she was going to have to have proper clothes. She finished off her slice and wiped her hands on her pants. There was a clothing store nearby.
      She walked inside, and heard the whispering again. Hunting had made her senses keen. “You help her” one of the female clerks said to the other.
      “Uh-uh. I’m not going near her. Look at her. She’s crazy.” The other answered. The bickering went on a few minutes more. Jana almost walked out but she knew nowhere else was going to be any better.
      Finally the first clerk made her way over, but kept a safe distance. “Can I umm… help you miss?”
      Jana sighed. “I need some new clothes. I’m not going to be able to fit in here in my skins.”
      This took a moment to roll over in her head. The girl seemed, marginally intelligent. If she could get her some new clothes, the girl would probably go away. “Ok sure… do you know what size you are?” Jana shook her head confused. “Mmm… that’s ok. I can figure it out. What would you like?”
      “Ummm….” Jana wasn’t real sure. She looked around but there were so many choices.
      “You umm… seem to like things that you can move around in. How about some cargo pants? They’ll be nice and loose… and a blouse to go with it.” The clerk asked tentatively. She hoped beyond hope no other customers came in right now.
      Jana shrugged. That sounded ok. Her mom had always picked out clothes for her before. She wanted to ask Sylvia, but the clerk was already scared of her, talking to a skull in a box would likely make things worse. Jana could smell the fear. Another of the many side effects of being a feral huntress most of her life.
      The college aged girl nodded and came back with a plain black t-shirt, and some light brown pants with a bunch of pockets. Bunches of pockets were good. Jana nodded her approval. The clerk looked so relieved. Maybe some socks too? Do you need undergarments?” Jana shrugged and the clerk sighed. “Let’s just assume you do ok?”
      The panties made sense. The other thing, it looked like something that was meant to be used as a slingshot. “What’s that for?” She asked pointing at the bra.
      The poor clerk looked like she wanted to die. “Umm… it’s a bra.” She looked at Jana. “You need one. Trust me.” She was not going to show the crazy girl how to put it on. She just wanted the freak out of the store. She rang up the sale “Ok that’s going to be, 107.62”.
      Jana blinked. She barely had money for pizza. “Umm… All I have is these.” She pulled out one of the gold coins.
      The girl looked at Jana, she wasn’t certain if she should scream or throttle the nut. She finally calmed herself. “There’s a jeweler a few blocks over. I’ll hold this for you. Go get some real money from him, and come back, ok?” She spoke a little patronizing to Jana.
      “Umm… sure” Jana sighed. If she didn’t need the clothes.
      The jeweler was no better about staring at her. Just her coming in had scared off some potential buyers. “What do you want?” He sounded annoyed at her.
      “I need to change this into real money. How many would it take to get um… maybe 120 dollars?” She held up one of the gold coins.
      That immediately changed the jeweler’s attitude from annoyed to accusing. “Where did a… ahem… young lady like you come up with these?”
      “A friend gave them to me” Jana sounded pleased.
      The jeweler looked at her dubiously, and then examined the coin. “Well it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before. But the weight value alone, could fetch you $200.”
      Jana’s eyes widened. $200? She’d never even seen that much money. “Sure!” She said excitedly.
      The jeweler eyeballed her again. Well the kid might just be handing over doubloon, but he wasn’t chancing it. He got the money from the register and handed it to her. “Thank you, miss.” He left off ‘and please come again. He’d be just as happy never to see the strange dirty little girl again.
      Jana dashed back to the clothing store. She was exceedingly happy with her accomplishment. “I got your money” She said, while waving it around.
      The clerk sighed deeply. Why her? “Girl put that away before someone steals it.” She scolded. She rang up the sale again and gave Jana a bag with her clothes in it. She was all too happy to see this kind of rank and really crazy girl gone.
      Jana looked around. Where was she going to change? It wasn’t exactly like she had a house to go to. A teenaged boy with glasses walked up to her. “That costume is SO cool. It makes you look like Sheena the Barbarian from Issue #32 where she fights the lizard people. Did you come from Kublacon?”
      Jana stared at him blankly as he continued, “You have SO got to meet my friends. It’s too cool!” The nerdish looking boy grabbed her by the arm and began to lead Jana through the streets of Palo Alto. “I cannot believe there’s actually another fan of Sheena the Barbarian here. And a girl even!”
      “Umm… sure… why not?” Jana was at least a huntress. She had that going for her right? And at least he was taking her somewhere that wasn’t the street where everyone was staring at her and laughing. Though she wasn’t entirely certain where he was taking her was going to be any better. Still she hoped it couldn’t be worse.
 

      It didn't take the teen-age nerd long to get his new 'acquisition' aka Jana back to his house. And it had been a mostly quiet trip. Mothers would run out and scoop up young children and run them back inside as if the strangely dressed girl might leap on them and devour the children whole if they weren’t safely inside. Older children stared, pointed, and giggled, and Jana spotted more than one concerned parent or neighbor looking out from behind blinds or a curtain as if they thought they might be spying on her in secret. It was almost as if this whole place was both aware and afraid.
      Jana followed uncertainly. Exactly where was this dork leading her anyway? But then anything had to be better than the sneers and jeers she was getting on the streets. Waiting at the bus stop had been the worst. She heard snickers and a few whispers of ‘freak’ among other colorful words. A short bus ride later, well by distance it was short, earned Jana even more stares and the young huntress was on edge barely able to keep her hand from going to grab her dagger and showing them exactly what they wanted to see. Once they were off the bus, she practically dragged the geek down the street and to his house after he had pointed it out. It seemed to take forever for him to get the front door unlocked and the two of them inside, away from her temper, and the people outside “Mom! I found the most awesome girl ever. She even likes comics!”
      Jana had never felt so much on the outside as she had since she walked into this town. If it wasn’t her duty, if she thought she could give up on any of the wish stones she would have turned around right then and ran screaming from town.
      Sylvia had to fight hard to bust out laughing. Even more so as a woman's voice came from the kitchen with a clear disbelief of the statement. “That's nice, dear, you should invite her over for dinner sometime.” Sylvia almost died from trying not to laugh as the kid responded, “Is now ok?”
      Around the time a plate dropped Sylvia couldn't contain herself anymore. She was certain she hadn't laughed this hard in, forever. Jana shushed at her skull companion but that cat was already out of the bag. Bryan, aka the geek, looked at Jana oddly when he realized it wasn't his newfound cos-player doing all the laughing. “What is that?”
      The huntress was lost for words or ideas of how to explain Sylvia, when Bryan beat her to it, as he started to rummage in her bag, and found the source of the laughter. “No WAY!” He cried as he pulled out the box. “You even have a replica of the Talking Skull of Jin'thara?”
      Jana blinked a few times in shock at this boy's rudeness, even if it some sort of demented way it was cute. About as cute as watching someone's puppy rip apart the throw pillow that used to be on your couch. “Don't touch that! It's um... fragile! And... Very expensive!” She wanted to say 'and my best friend' but that just didn't strike her as a good idea.
      The geek boy shook his head “This is too cool, I have to see it, and I'll be careful after all I own the largest collection of....” Somewhere around there Jana had tuned him out, as she was watching in shocked horror as he stared down at Sylvia in amazement. “So how do you get it to work? Is there a voice command, does it respond to certain stimuli” Bryan ran off about twenty other options as to how it might work before Sylvia finally just got fed up and answered.
      “I work off the magic of some ancient civilization, and I'm very cranky. So if you'd kindly put me back into the bag where you found me before I cast some very nasty hexes on you, I'd greatly appreciate it” Sylvia growled crossly. Well as much as a skull could growl.
      This took a moment to register. “That is too cool!” Bryan shouted elatedly. He looked from the skull to Jana who was standing there with her arms crossed, seething. “Sorry, I got carried away. I know how I'd react if someone started handling my collection.” He meekly handed the box back to Jana.
      Jana wasted no time in snatching the box and looking Sylvia over. Sylvia whispered, “Stop it, Jana. He's just excited about seeing a cute girl he thinks is into his hobby.” Jana looked down and nodded.
      “Sorry. It's ok. Maybe later I'll let you look it over, but right now I need to let the umm... batteries rest.” Jana looked hoping that this complete and utter lie would pass but the creepy teen seemed to be too busy fawning over her to even notice. He just nodded in response with a mumbled 'sure ok'.
      It was about then a woman who looked to be in her mid-forties sharing entirely too many facial features with the geek kid walked into the living room. She did a double take as she looked at Jana, but Jana noticed the experienced eye that comes with age, catching details that her son had not. That this girl wasn’t just some oddly dressed weirdo her son had picked up from wherever. She was different, and didn’t belong here. “Sure she can stay for dinner, Bryan. But I'd like to talk to her first.”
      The boy tried to protest, but his mother insisted. He finally ran off to what Jana could only assume was the basement lair he'd inhabit well into his 40s. She twinged as she heard something about no one on-line even believing this, and something about pictures. The last thing she wanted to was to be the object of drooling admiration for thousands, maybe even more, geeky little freaks. Bryan's mom broke her train of thought with a direct question. “Who are you, really?”
      It caught Jana completely off guard. “Umm... really? I'm Jana... the umm…”
      Jungle Girl.” Bryan's mom finished for her.
      Bryan’s mother shook her head. “Sure you are. And I'm the comic relief on a spin-off action show about a warrior princess.” She looked Jana over “Come into the kitchen. I'm sure you don't like comics and I know you aren't from here. Wherever here really is.”
      Sylvia whispered from her box. “The wishstone isn't here, but she can probably help you fit in here better while we locate it. Don't mention the talking skull of the centaurs… or whatever. We can talk about this later.”
      Jana nodded silently though since Sylvia couldn't see her it was kind of pointless. “I hope you like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and peas.” She laughed softly. Jana answered with a prompt 'yes ma'am' as her parents had always beaten into her. ‘Mom’ noted it silently, but continued. “While I finish cooking, I hope you'll humor me by answering some of my questions.”
      Before Jana could have protested the woman continued, “I know two things. That you aren't from 'here' and 'here' isn't the way it's supposed to be. Don't ask me how I know these things, I just do. I know I'm not a working mom in some stuck-up little suburb in what I think is supposed to be California. At least that's what I'm guessing by all the palm trees.” She continued “You're here, which means that I'm probably right. I don't know why you're here, but if you mean my son, and he is my real son, I know that, any harm....”
      Jana cut her off quickly. “No, your son isn't the reason I'm here.” She paused as she mulled that over a second. “Well ok he's why I'm in your house, but not the reason I'm here.” As Bryan's Mom looked less likely to grab the nearby butcher knife and carve a piece out of her, Jana continued. “My name is Jana, but no not the Jungle Girl. I... sort of created this world. But now I'm trying to set it right.”
      This intrigued Paula. “My name is Paula, or for the sake of appearances 'Ms. Kelser'. Either way, why don't you tell me more about this, Jana?”
      “Well it's going to sound stupid but this all started in a diner in San Antonio, where I live. Well... where I did live with my mom and dad before I made the world this way. I said I wanted to give everyone in the diner, that I was trying to avoid eating the nasty asparagus in, their wish.” If Sylvia had a hand or a face, she'd have facepalmed right then as Jana sounded like her 8yr old self. Not the 18 yr old girl she appeared to be. The tone Paula used indicated she noticed, but it was that adult tone that kids rarely caught onto, but adults knew well, the 'humoring the young child’ tone.
      Ok, Jana. Well... I will admit that's hard to swallow. But you are dressed strangely, especially for anywhere modern, and you've obviously, acquired some clothes, to try and fit in. Call it a mother's sense, but I believe you.” She left out 'Though you sound eight, not like the teen you look to be.' “I can offer you a place to stay while you do whatever it is you need to do, but there's a condition.”
      As Jana looked at her curiously, she answered with perhaps the worst thing an eight year old girl could ever want to hear. “I want you to take Bryan to prom. I'll get you a dress and everything, and make sure he's not in a lime green tuxedo or anything immediately embarrassing. But as long as he thinks your his comic loving dream girl, I'd like to see if I can make sure he's not living in my basement for the rest of his life. I'm going to do that by letting him go out with a cute girl. Ie, you.”
      Jana turned first turned every shade of pink at the complement then green in the book, and then made up a few as her brain processed the rest of the statement. Go out, with a boy? Boys have cooties! Which probably meant comic nerd boy had ultra mega nerd cooties. And what is a prom anyway? “I ummm...” She tried to think of any excuse to get at least have some time to think it over.
      “You can stay tonight, but by tomorrow evening, dinner, I'd like an answer. Now go get changed into those clothes you just bought.” Jana was about to ask how she knew, but the shopping bags in her hands were a little obvious. She nodded in respond and went to the guest bedroom she was directed to.
      She pulled out the clothes. T-shirt and jeans, those made sense. The little canvas tennis shoes she got, and even the panties were self-explanatory and things like she'd worn back home. But the thing the salesgirl who acted like Jana was going to target her as prey next, had called a bra. What was that for? It looked like a poorly designed slingshot you might use to launch coconuts at neighboring islands. What was she supposed to do with that?
      After starting at this 'bra' a moment, Jana decided it was time to consult the expert. She pulled Sylvia's box out of her pack “Sylvia, I need help.” She said as she pulled the skull out of its protective casing.
      Sylvia about howled with laughter. If this weren’t her best friend, a laughing skull would have been creepy. One laughing like this would have been downright terrifying. “Of all the messes you've gotten yourself into, Jana, this is by far the most hilarious!”
      “Oh sure, you always complain that I never ask you for help. And when I do, you laugh at me. Screw you, Sylvia.” Jana picked the skull back up intending to push her back into the box, then the box into the bottom of her pack, covered by everything else in there.
      However as Sylvia actually got a look at Jana and the girl’s frustration with the undergarment, she felt a little bad about laughing at her. “I'm sorry, Jana. I was laughing about your prom date with Bryan the comic nerd. I can help you with the bra. It's for keeping your boobs from bouncing everywhere as you move. While your skins are just stiff enough to do that, that T-shirt won't be nearly as effective and you'll have boys staring at you for an entirely different reason.”
      Jana blinked a few times then blushed. “Oh.” She managed. Her mom had never said ‘boobs’ or really made any reference to that part of her body around Jana before.
      Ok, Jana, now that we're on the same page, here's what you do. See the cups?” As Jana looked confused Sylvia said with a 'smirk', “The coconut launchers.” Jana nodded quickly at this. “Ok. If you follow them along the bottom you'll find some ends with some hooks. Take those ends, and turn the bra upside down, so those weird handle looking straps are facing down.”
      She watched as Jana tried to follow the directions and coached her on. “Ok good. Now. Turn it around so that the cups are at your back, and then hook those hooks into the spot where it feels both snug and comfortable. Well… as comfortable as a bra can be anyway.”
      The hooks were the first things on this stupid contraption that had made any sense to Jana. She found the spot she liked and then looked to Sylvia for further coaching. Sylvia obliged quickly. “Ok you're doing good. Now, what you need to do is to turn it around so the coconut holders are under your breasts.” That took Jana a moment but she got it there. “Good, good. Now just put your arms through the straps like they were shirt sleeves, and then your coconut launcher is on.” Jana couldn't help but laugh as she got the bra on.
      It was shortly after she was dressed, and getting her hair brushed after the long day that she wished she’d taken a bath before putting on her new clothes. She’d been riding all day and… Her bike! She’d completely forgot about it after the fight and the nerd attack right after. “Sylvia my bike is still back at that pizza place!” She sounded a little panicked.
      Sylvia reassured her. “Jana no one has the magic to operate it, so they can’t steal it. Just ask Ms. Kesler to take you to pick it up after dinner. She seems like a nice lady and I’m sure she’ll help you out.”
      Jana nodded and calmed at this. “But what if someone hurts it?”
      If she had eyes Sylvia would have rolled them right now. “Jana stop panicking. Unlike your leathers, the bike looks normal, and not a lot of people saw you ride it in. No one’s going to bother it.” She felt relieved when this calmed Jana down. Even if they did, Sylvia was fairly certain she had a mending spell that might be able to fix it. She’d never tried it on machinery. It crossed her mind that Allisandra might even be useful at that moment. Well she wasn’t here so if it were a problem they’d deal with it. She coaxed Jana down to dinner, which would prove to be an interesting affair.
 

      Stephanie closed her eyes and pushed Marcus’s arm off her shoulders in what seemed like the twelfth time, since they’d gotten into the car. She listened to Steve go on about how that girl had just gotten lucky and the next time he saw her, she was dead. It was so egotistical, so macho. This is what she had wanted? It was kind of nice at first, being with the ‘cool kids’ but now that she saw them for what they really were, vapid, shallow, egotistical jerks, she wondered if that wish was really the right one.
      Marcus was trying to talk Steve out of another fight with that weird girl. At least he had some sense. He was both like, and not like them. He was smart, for a jock. But she doubted she could discuss anything really interesting with him, like advanced physics or astronomy. But she wasn’t supposed to like those things as a ‘popular girl.’ She was supposed to like make-up, and clothes, and talk about who she was going to date, and if they were cute enough for her standards. But none of that felt right. It was like going against the grain, and every bit of it screamed at her that this wasn’t right. It wasn’t her world. She agreed with that sense.
      A male voice broke Stephanie’s train of thought “Steph? You ok? You look out of it.” It was Marcus. He actually looked concerned. But was it because his date looked like she might be thinking, or some real concern about her?
      “Yeah… I’m fine.” She smiled weakly at him as she tried to be convincing “I’m umm, just thinking about what I’ll wear to prom.”
      Genevieve about threw everyone out of the car as she slammed on the brakes. “You haven’t bought your dress, yet? Ok. We’re going to fix this right now. How is Marcus supposed to know what color tie and cumber bun to wear if you don’t have your dress?” The guys groaned. “Shut up you two. This is important.”
      Stephanie had this blank look. She had to have a special dress for prom? And it had to match her date’s clothes? What sort of insanity was that? “Well umm, I’d just gotten a black one.” Marcus mumbled.
      Gen nodded “Ok she’d look cute in a black dress. Maybe some high heeled sandals, I know of this great place.” She made a U-turn at the light and sped down the road.
      Stephanie’s eyes widened as they sped down the road. What sort of insanity was this? Wouldn’t a normal dress do? She thought she’d seen a few in her closet. Why couldn’t she wear a normal dress? Now that she thought about it, Gen had been going on for a while about her dress at some point last night. Steph had tuned her out and been responding with non-committal things like ‘That sounds really pretty’ and ‘Cool!’ She even thought at one point she said something about Gen looking ‘hot’. Had she ever called anyone ‘hot’ at any point in her life?
      The dress shop was an utter nightmare. It was filled with tacky and gaudy dresses. Sparkly things that no one in their right mind would wear, and most of them didn’t have backs or were so low cut that her breasts might pop right out of them. Gen ran up to the counter and said something about an emergency. The man she was talking to was either gay, or he put on a very convincing show of being gay.
      He pulled the confused former nerd to a stand where there were three mirrors reflecting different angles “A rush job” he complained. Franco as he seemed to be called tapped his chin and something about her not being a pink because it would contrast with her skin. He went on to say she needed something dark, and she thought at some point he scolded her about going out into the sun at some point.
      This was horrible, he made Stephanie put on three different dresses, her opinion apparently didn’t matter because every time she tried to say something he would shush her and tell her to let him work. All the while, despite sending several glances pleading for help, Steph watched Genevieve chatting away with the tailor as if her supposed best friend wasn’t being tormented with pinches, pulling, and being used as a human mannequin all in the name of being made to look pretty for prom.
      In the end they settled on a backless, very low V cut, silver sequined dress that fell to her ankles. Somewhere around the knees the black faded into a smoky gray and the sequins turned black. Stephanie thought the thing was just tacky, especially with the giant belt like thing in the center which formed a diamond that extended from the bottom of her breasts to her bellybutton, was trimmed in the silvery sequins, with a sequin flower design in the center that was almost as big as the belt.
      After what seemed like an hour’s argument they finally compromised and Steph got closed toe shoes, but they had a 1 ½” heel on them. Gen was grumbling about how unsexy the shoes were, but at this point Steph was ready to take Gen’s opinions and shove them up the popular girl’s ass. She let the clerk and Gen talk her into a dangly rhinestone necklace set. It was all silver so it matched the dress, and the earrings were a thin dangly string, so she could mostly ignore them.
      Once all this was boxed up, Steph was relieved to be done with it all, and then things went downhill. Gen picked up a few locks of Steph’s hair tsked a few times, and then announced it was time for a makeover. Steph felt herself dying a little inside. “Really, Gen? Haven’t we done enough for today?” Despite wanting to add in ‘to me’ she managed to hold that little bit out. They always said wishes blew up in your face, now she completely believed them, and the only wish she wanted was that she’d never made the wish in the first place. Being a nerd was a hell of a lot easier than this.
 

      Jana had never been particularly crazy about meatloaf. She poked at it uneasily with her fork as she tried very hard to ignore a certain nerd staring at her. He was staring so hard she was afraid he might actually have developed X-Ray vision and was looking…Jana shook her head as if trying to shake the thought right from her brain.
      Paula finally spoke up, hoping Jana might say, something about her son’s behavior. “Is everything ok, Jana?” She sighed inwardly as Jana nodded. If she told Bryan to lay off he’d never get the point and think she was just being protective, or something. No it had to be Jana. She’d tried twice now to break the uncomfortable silence. Once by asking Jana how the food was to which she got the polite ‘non-committal’ response of ‘it’s good, thank you.’ At least Jana’s parents had taught the girl manners. Now if only Kevin would learn some.
      The second time was when she asked Jana about a prom dress which immediately got shut down as Jana looked for anything else to talk about. Which turned out to be, nothing. Yeah this was going well. She started at Jana again “Jana I got really lucky. I managed to get us an emergency appointment with a stylist for tonight.” Jana looked non-plussed as she nodded. “He also said he can refer us to someone that can recommend some good make-up for you.”
      The left side of Jana’s mouth twitched a little. Make-up. Most girls loved hat sort of thing. Maybe even once she’d gotten into her mom’s make-up case and made a mess. But that seemed like such a distant memory. Most girls also hadn’t taken on the life of a huntress. It can change a girl. Make her realize that being pretty is a luxury, especially compared with trying to get your next meal together, and guarding kills from the other hungry creatures. Being pretty was generally the last thing on her mind.
      Jana smushed some peas into her mashed potatoes. She remembered liking to do that too, then her mom would yell at her about playing with her food. A small smile crept across her face, it was a fond memory in the face of all the things she was about to have to endure. Ok really, it was just one night in an uncomfortable dress with a nerd drooling on her shoulder.
      What would Sylvia say? Well, ok after Sylvia stopped laughing her non-existent ass off. Really, she’d faced much worse. She’d almost died just a few days ago. Got captured by ogres with a mysterious bard, and a fiery tempered ice mage and then went back to face the entire village of the beasts to get Sylvia back. Well at least with the ogres she’d had that smart-assed mage as a partner. A slobbering nerd who was just embarrassing to be seen with or a smart-assed mage who might turn her into a popsicle if they ran across each other again. The nerd was better, but only slightly.
 

      After dinner Paula and Jana got into her car. It was nothing special, just a boring four-door suburbanite car. It was even a boring color. White. Jana was more than ready to get out of this town. Sure the last place hadn’t been the most exciting place in the world, but the people were nice, accepting. Here it seemed more about some sort of weird pecking order. They were like animals that hunted in packs, each trying to establish dominance over a different part of the pack. Though the reasons for this seemed based on money, beauty, and ability at sports. Oh and lack of weirdness, whatever that meant.
      Jana laid her head back into the seat with a soft sigh. “What’s on your mind?” Paula asked. Her voice suggested curiosity but a guarded sense of it. Since the uncomfortable dinner, even Paula seemed to have taken a wary air to the huntress.
      “Just observing. Noticing how this place works.” Jana mumbled with a hint of distaste in her voice.
      Paula went back to driving as she thought about what Jana meant. Even teenagers had their profound moments, even if they didn’t realize it. This girl that her son had found was the outsider looking in. But something about the way she said those words. Not just saying she didn’t like the place, but the deeper meaning. That she was intelligent. She looked, learned, and then moved based on that. The girl could have walked straight out of one of those girl raised by animals books. She was like a wild animal caged and wanting its freedom. So why was she enduring this? It certainly wasn’t for her son’s sake. Paula milled this over as she drove to the hair stylist.
      After a few more minutes drive, Paula pulled the car into a parking space. Jana got out of the car wordlessly after Paula did. Jana looked around taking in her surroundings. It was yet another part of the giant strip mall that seemed to be what passed for downtown in this suburb. There was a video rental place next to the hair stylist. It made the place seem far less glamorous then previously described. Jana went inside reluctantly, and her eyes immediately looked for empty seats as Paula went and spoke to the receptionist. The place didn’t seem overly busy. Two people were cutting hair, and there were a few empty chairs. But then every place she’d been to like this had been that way. There was only one other girl waiting. Jana spotted some empty chairs as far as she could be from the other girl and sat in one of them.
      A quick glance over the magazine selection didn’t provide anything of interest. Stuff about the latest movements of the stars and some assorted women’s magazines. It made Jana wonder if Hollywood still existed of if the magazines were just some by-products of this miniature world. Paula walked over after a short conversation with the girl up front. “Jana, they’ll call your name. I have some errands to run, I’ll see you in an hour.” Jana nodded pretty much indicating she’d heard the words and that they registered on some level. Paula looked satisfied with that and left.
      Stephanie looked up, and then quickly away as she had seen who had entered the stylist. It was that crazy girl. Well, she looked normal now, even bored. Steph also knew she’d seen that woman… Bryan’s mom. She remembered Bryan from before this happened. The time before the wish. Bryan was obsessed with comics, he seemed nice, mostly, but his interest in girls was lacking. He got picked on a lot by the jocks because he was a proud ‘comic nerd’.
      Why was the crazy girl… Jana. Her name was Jana. Well ok now she was Jana the crazy girl, still why was she with Bryan’s mom? Steph sighed. What would her new social circle do if they were here? Probably laugh at the girl and talk about her as if she wasn’t in the room. Or that dumb jock would try to pick a fight with her to redeem his bruised ego. But Steph wasn’t those people, despite what she’d wished for and they weren’t here. What should she do?
      Jana looked up and noticed the brown haired girl staring at her. The girl looked vaguely familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. But then anyone being familiar here narrowed it down to a limited pool of people. The group from the pizza place, the sales girls at the clothing store, or someone from Bryan’s house. She obviously wasn’t from Bryan’s house, and Jana was pretty sure she wasn’t from the clothing store. So that left the group from the pizza place. Great. Well her cohorts weren’t here, and the girl didn’t look brave enough to snarl at Jana by herself. Maybe if she just ignored the pest, it wouldn’t be a problem.
      Steph froze briefly as she realized Jana had looked back in her direction, then relaxed as the other girl looked away, disinterested. Well either this Jana girl didn’t remember her, or if she did, wasn’t going to start anything. Or just didn’t care. Any of those were a plus. Steph closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then exhaled slightly audibly through her nose. Now that this Jana girl was dressed like a normal teenager, save for the braids, she looked, normal. And even the braids weren’t that bad, just gave her a bit of a hippie flair. Nothing was going to happen if she didn’t talk to Jana. But was it really wise to set something into motion by opening her mouth?
      Frustration set in, as Steph silently debated with herself, about what her new clique would think vs. the fact she didn’t even like the clique. Stephanie wanted to be Stephanie the quiet nerd. Sure… she got laughed at and picked on, but at least when she went home, all that was behind her for the most part, and she didn’t feel like a jerk. Genevieve and her friends wouldn’t bother calling to torment her if Steph was herself again. They left her alone once she was away from them. Out of sight out of mind. A third part of Steph’s brain, the impulse center, seemingly got tired of all the bickering, and took matters into it’s own hands. “Are you a friend of Bryan’s?” Steph blurted out before she could stop herself. The ball was in play now.
      The question being addressed to her caught Jana completely off-guard. “Huh? Well… umm… not exactly.” Yeah what was she supposed to answer to that? She didn’t hate Bryan, she just didn’t want to be stuck in a social situation with him. Even worse, he was probably full of nerd cooties. “I’m staying with them while I’m in town.” Jana mentally sighed at herself. At least the brown haired girl didn’t seem dangerous. She smelled of nervousness and looked uncertain. Testing the waters. Best to be neutral.
      Ok so it wasn’t exactly friendly, but it wasn’t hostile either. “I’m Stephanie. Everyone calls me Steph.” She smiled uncertainly. “Are you here to get your hair done for prom?” Oh come on what sort of stupid question was that? Who would she go with, Bryan? That was highly unlikely. Now that she looked normal she was a really attractive girl. The kind that wouldn’t be caught dead with the king of the nerds. Well ok he wasn’t quite that bad but… Why was she defending Bryan to herself anyway? Even as her quieter self she’d never really talked to him much. Was it just the kinship of being in the same position on the high school totem pole?
      Jana wasn’t certain how to respond, but maybe it would be best to have someone friendly to retreat to when Bryan did something boy-like. Like tried to kiss her. “I’m, Jana. Yeah… I kinda got roped into it. They let me stay… I go to prom with Bryan. I guess it could be worse.”
      Curiosity was getting the best of her. Steph had to know why Jana was here. “Do your parents know Bryan’s mom or something? Family friend?”
      “Umm…” Jana scratched the back of her head with a slightly embarrassed look “I got drug there for looking like some comic book character or something. Bryan’s mom was a good sport about it, and let me stay while I’m here.” As Stephanie laughed at the explanation, Jana laughed too. It was really funny when she thought about it.
      After the short, shared laugh Steph looked at Jana more seriously. “Why are you here? I mean no offense, but you clearly don’t belong. You came into town dressed funny, you don’t know anyone, and I doubt seriously you were here for the convention. You don’t strike me as that sort. No… it was more like your leathers were everyday wear for you.” Steph bit her lip after she said that. She’d said too much Jana, and the other girl’s eyes showed it “I was trying to stop them. I…” She sighed and started to say something about the wish. No that would be stupid. “I’m sorry they acted like that. They were being jerks.”
      That seemed to relax Jana “And it was kinda funny watching you beat Steve up.” She paused. They weren’t the only ones being jerks. She was the one who started it. “I was being a jerk, too. I was the one who said something first. I’m sorry.”
      Jana raised one eyebrow “Yes. I remember. Then you tried to stop it.” Well at least the girl had apologized for being a jerk. It was really more than she had expected from that bunch.
      Stephanie nodded “I forgot what it was like to be teased. It’s not excuse but… Ya know how it goes. Trying to fit in.” Even when you don’t belong. She felt a little better as Jana nodded. For some reason Jana’s patience made her feel she could confide in this girl. “I… well.. I used to be a nerd, then something changed when I…” She was cut off as the stylist called her name. She sighed “Well I’ll see you at prom. Maybe we can talk there.”
      Jana blinked a few times. Could she be the one? She’d need Sylvia to confirm it, but if this Stephanie girl was the one she was searching for, it would get her out of this place. Her train of thought was cut off as her name was called. Jana reluctantly got up and walked over. She’d taken care of her own hair for years. She didn’t need some ‘professional’ with scissors and a blow dryer doing it for her. “So what can I do for you today?”
      Jana got a good look at the stylist. She had green streaks in her hair, a bobbed pixie cut. Yeah… this was just the person she wanted touching her hair. “Nothing really, but my hair is apparently not good enough for prom.” The stylish frowned at Jana’s attitude. Jana sighed inwardly. Her mom would have slapped her upside the head for being rude. At least, Jana thought she would have. “I’m sorry. I just don’t like this much.”
      The stylist nodded. “Well those braids have to go. They look cute on younger girls, but they simply won’t do.” Jana tensed up. She liked her braids. “Now, I think I have something that will go great for you. You’re gonna look hot. Let’s go get you shampooed.” The shampooing wasn’t so bad. Kind of nice actually. The stylist massaged her scalp a little, as she washed. “Now I think we should keep the length, but I’m going to have to cut off an inch. You have a lot of split ends. And bangs. Definitely bangs to frame your face, and give you character.”
      Jana was sure she had plenty of character already. The braids gave her that. But she didn’t really feel up to arguing. She’d just put them back after all this was over. And it seemed tomorrow night would mark the end of this place. The wide open spaces would be nice again. She’d even much rather fight the ogres again, alone. She was led back to the chair after a short toweling, the stylish tried to talk but Jana didn’t feel much like talking. She gave some non-committal responses before they both fell into silence, save a few instructions from the stylist who, by then, seemed to want this over just as badly as Jana did.
      Just as she finished up her cut, Bryan’s mom arrived. Jana looked at her new hairstyle. It didn’t look bad, but she still wasn’t overly impressed. Jana still thought her hair looked just fine before. Still she was nice about it. Bryan’s mom made a comment about how great Jana looked which got a small smile. “I know you’re less than thrilled. But thank you for doing all this. Let’s go get you a dress.” Jana nodded again. Paula was correct. The huntress was totally non-plussed. Still if it got her the wishstone, it was worth it in the end.
 

      The dress store wasn’t far away so they just walked. It was refreshing to walk a little. She looked around as she did hoping to get a glimpse of Stephanie somewhere, but there was no sign of the teen. She had left before Jana. The pair walked into the dress shop and a quick glance around made Jana want to run for her life and sanity away. It was full of frilly dresses in various colors, most of them looked constrictive and fell to the floor. “You have got to be kidding me.” She mumbled under her breath. This just kept getting better and better.
      A man greeted them, talking in a very odd voice. She let Paula do the talking. And before she knew it, Jana was standing on a platform, having this man wrap a tape measure around various parts of her body. She blushed slightly when he wrapped it around her breasts but he seemed to act as if this was a normal everyday thing for him, and it wasn’t like he touched her there. Still it was a little, unsettling. “Hmm” he finally said. “Yes, yes. I think I have just the thing.” He went and got a slim lavender dress that looked like it would expose her shoulders and half her back. “Now go into the dressing room and try this on.”
      Jana looked at him as if he’d just asked her to eat a plate of worms “Umm…” He nudged her in anyway. It felt weird undressing in public, even if it was an enclosed dressing room. After she figured out the object was to step into and then wiggle into the dress, she finally managed to get it on. Jana felt like she couldn’t breathe, much less walk in this thing. She walked back outside in sock feet and almost tripped over herself in the process. “Umm. I can’t walk.”
      “Hmm, but you look so sexy. What do you think?” He looked at Paula’s mom who nodded her approval.
      Jana looked into the mirrors designed to show three different angles. The dress showed off every curve, in detail. And they wanted her to wear this in public? It barely covered her breasts, and moving was almost impossible. “Umm, I can’t do this. I can’t move. What if I get attacked?” This got odd stares from both Paula and the man. “It happens.” She tried to sound like this was serious but the looks made her feel like she’d said something stupid.
      “Fine, fine.” The man finally conceded. “I have something, it has a more open front around the legs should you need to kick someone” He almost sounded mocking as he made the comment. It seemed like his professionalism was the only thing that kept him from being completely snarky.
      He brought out a blue one, this time. And while it seemed to drag on the floor, it did have the promised, open front around the legs. Jana went back into the changing room. After putting on this new dress she blinked. It exposed most of her thighs when she walked. Still, it had high mobility, and if she needed to fight or run, she would be good to go. There were thing straps holding up the entire thing, and it was so low cut it showed cleavage. Jana blushed as she saw herself but it would have to do. The dress was tight around the top around like the other one, but it was a darker blue, midnight blue, she thought. At least it matched that crayon from her big box of crayons she’d had before this happened. It seemed like ages ago. The inside was a very light pink, and the whole thing was shimmery. She walked out and there were more nods of approval.
      “Now I have just the shoes and earrings to go with this. He brought out some shimmery rose pumps, and showed Paula’s mom some sparkly jewelry. Apparently Jana’s opinion in this didn’t matter. Granted she was going to hate it regardless so may as well let them decide. “I also recommend some brown pantyhose. Suntan would be good, it matches her tanned legs, and will give her legs a smooth look especially with them being so exposed.
      Pantyhose? She had no idea what that was, but it was probably something annoying. Jana sighed and went to take off the dress when she got told to stay right there. He took more measurements. Mostly along the bottom, since the dress had no sleeves. “Hmm yes the length should be ok.” He turned back to Bryan’s mom, who said she was renting the dress. Jana got shooed into the dressing room, and she was all too happy to get back into the jeans and t-shirt.
      As they walked out Paula looked at her “Thank you again, Jana. For everything.” Jana nodded and said ‘you’re welcome’. “I hope you find what you need here. You’re welcome to stay while you do.”
      “Thank you. I think I found what I was looking for. I just have to make sure, and then actually get it. Things here will change after I do. I don’t know how fast. I just know that the world reverts to the way it’s supposed to be. You’ll have your real normal life back.” Jana tried to sound reassuring.
      Bryan’s mother nodded “You’ll get what you need to done. I believe in you. I don’t know why, but you have a sense of someone special about you. It must be hard doing what you do.”
      “It can be.” It felt nice to talk about this. “There’s lots of people I have to find. I’ve found a few but… There are so many. And some of the things I’ve gone though.” She smiles “But I do get to meet new people, see exciting places, go on adventures. It’s not all bad.”
      Paula smiled as they got into the car. “Enjoy these years, Jana. They really are some of the best of your life.” As Jana pondered this, Paula started the car and began the drive home.
      Jana hadn’t seen hair nor hide of Bryan since dinner. Not that she was particularly concerned with this. Though if she was going to go somewhere where she had to wear a fancy dress with someone, normally she’d want to get to know them. But if he was leaving her alone, who was she to nose into his business. Besides he’d probably start talking about comic books or some other boring boy nerd stuff. It wasn’t that he seemed like a bad guy. It was more his priorities were backwards. But if he was happy then who was she to argue?
 

      Jana sat on the bed after getting into her room. “Sylvia, what are pantyhose?”
      Sylvia didn’t answer at first but when Jana asked again she awoke from her nap. There wasn’t much else to do when you were alone and stuck in a box. “Huh? What now? Pantyhose? Why are you asking that all of the sudden.”
      “Umm well the weird guy from the dress shop told Paula I should wear some with the dress.” Jana sounded confused. “Something about evening out my legs.”
      Sylvia cackled. She’d not had this much fun in a while. “Oh they’re something you’ll really like.” She said in an amused sarcastic voice. “They go on your legs. They’re made of very sheer material, and are exceedingly fragile. They were designed by men to make women look pretty. It’s a love/hate thing. You either really like them, or you hate them.”
      Jana nodded slowly. That didn’t mean much to her, really. “I see.” She sighed. There wasn’t much to do. Maybe she should just get some sleep. It had been a long day of riding, fighting, and all this ‘prom’ nonsense. Tomorrow was going to be, interesting to say the least. She pulled off her jeans and climbed into bed. She fell quickly into sleep.
 

      Steph found the next day at school, awkward. Hanging around Gen, Steve, Marcus, and other popular girls and jocks. The jocks talked about girls constantly, when they weren’t picking on the weaker teens. During lunch, Gen and company just blathered about how excited they were about the prom, boys, and make-up tips. Could they be any shallower?
      Gen finally nudged Steph, “Hey you’ve been quiet.”
      Steph scrunched her lip to one side. She had been hoping Gen wouldn’t notice. Now she needed some sort of excuse “Oh… umm just thinking about tonight.”
      Gen grinned “Yeah I’d be daydreaming too if I was going to prom with Marcus. He is SOO Cute. Are you guys finally going to do it tonight? It’s a special night after all. And if you don’t soon he’s going to leave you. He’s not going to wait forever, while you decide if you’re ready or not.”
      That caused all the color to drain out of Steph’s face. That goon wanted to have sex with her now? Well it sort of made sense. Jock boys thought about two things. Sports and sex. “Umm… maybe” She said non-committally.
      Gen shook her head, her blonde hair waving around. “Seriously Steph, you have GOT to get with the program…”
      She had to tune the cheerleader out. Every word Gen said made Steph want to vomit. Sex with Marcus? She’d sooner wash her hair with toilet water. She nodded a little showing she might have been actually listening. “I’ll think about it.” She tried to sound serious but failed miserably.
      Gen licked her lips with the ruby covered lipstick covering them. Who exactly was she trying to impress anyway? “You have so got to step up your game, Steph.” This from a girl who thought short skirts and tight T-shirts that just barely passed school regulations made great everyday wear. “I mean seriously, girl. If we hadn’t known each other since grade school.” She shook her head. “Look after school, I’ll help you out. Your hair was a good first step, and it looks really hot, but you’ve really got to start with some make-up girl.”
      Say what now? Make-up? Hot? Steph looked average. She wore glasses, practiced hygiene, and wore clothes. That was about the extent of how much she cared about her looks. She loved science, not super models. Physics and Chemistry won over teen stars, and rock over pop. This greener grass had fast turned brown. That Jana girl had been the first person she’d met since this started that was true to herself, and now Steph wanted her truth back. Would this wish even let her have it back? Maybe it was time to try.
      “I don’t know, Gen, finals are coming. Maybe I should just get in some studying tonight. I’m not feeling so good anyway.” At least that’s what she wanted to say. But the words wouldn’t come. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll see you after school. I really could use a little help. What shade of lipstick would look good on me anyway?” No! No! No! That’s not what she wanted to say at all. She swallowed hard, she was trapped in this life.
      Gen put a reassuring arm around Steph “Don’t sweat it. You’ll be almost as pretty as me when I’m done with you.” Gen smiled at her. But it didn’t seem genuine. “I hope that jungle girl doesn’t show up. Not that I think she could get a date.” Gen laughed.
      Steph felt an overwhelming urge to laugh. Around Jana she’d been able to be herself, but with Gen and everyone she couldn’t. What if she was a jerk to Jana at prom tonight? Damnit, she had to find a way to beat this.
      After school was no better. She actually felt this fake enjoyment of letting Gen make her look good for prom. She had her dress on, pantyhose, but at least she had the flats. The dress was so tight she could barely walk. She was made up, and well… she did look good, but that wasn’t her staring her back in the mirror.
      “The boys will pick us up at 7. We’ll go to dinner. Steve said he got some reservations at this really swanky restaurant. Then we’ll show up fashionably late to prom.”
      Steph smiled back “This is going to be fun. You know, you’re right. I think I’ll go all the way with Marcus tonight. It’s prom, and we’ve been dating for six months now.” WHAT?!? What was she saying? Those words did not just escape her mouth. Gen was giving her this look of approval mixed with ‘about time’. Steph glanced at the clock 5:30. An hour and a half before the rest of what was turning out to be the worst day of her life. At least she still had her mind. But there was this nagging at the back of her mind. That this was she had really wanted all along. She could be one of them. Steph tried to push the thought away but it persisted. Jana. Jana could help her. She had to help. This wish was her nightmare. She was losing herself.
 

      It was 5:30, and Paula had told Jana to get dressed if she wanted to go to dinner before prom. She was staring blankly at these brown things. They looked like really thin footie pajama bottoms. And she was going to wear these because? Sylvia was out of her box since Jana needed her help, but Sylvia was barely containing laughter and a few giggles kept creeping out. “Sylvia, this isn’t funny.” Jana said a little crossly. “How do I put these things on?”
      Sylvia thought this was both hilarious and yet, it was a special moment. Like watching her own daughter going to prom. All parents both loved and hated this day. It marked the final transition into womanhood, it was almost like a ritual. This day was the one forewarning that their precious child was almost ready to leave the nest. Graduation would clench it. Graduation would be different for her and Jana. It would be the day Jana finally returned the world to normal and that was a long ways away.
      “Ok, what you need to do is to roll each leg up to the top with your thumb and fore finger, and then pull that leg up to the knee. Then do the same with the other leg.” Sylvia had gotten past most of her amusement now with the more profound and loving thoughts about Jana. Jana did as she was told with a little coaching, and soon she was in the stockings.
      “These things feel weird.” Jana complained.
      “Yes it’s like that the first time.” Sylvia would roll her eyes if she had any. “I had to wear them a lot as part of my waitress uniform. You get used to it.”
      Jana wasn’t real sure she wanted to get used to it. Now that she’d gotten a feel for the bra, it wasn’t so bad. It would be… useful under her leathers, which so longed to get back into. Not that jeans were so bad, but, the leathers were more comfortable. The dress was a mess, she felt exposed, despite Sylvia telling her she looked good. “Sylvia, I think I’ve identified the girl we’re after, but I can’t be sure. But I don’t see any way I can take you with me.”
      Sylvia considered this “Maybe you should try this one on your own, Jana. You have very sharp instincts. Use them. I trust you. If you think this is the girl, approach her. They already think you’re a crazy person anyway, the worst they’re going to do is get into another fight with you. Though I doubt that would happen.” Jana nodded and promised she’d try, “Oh and Jana. I want to see pictures.”
      Jana nodded again, it would make Sylvia happy, so it was something else she could bear. She could always burn them or conveniently lose them later. She walked downstairs so Paula could do her make-up. A skill most eight year olds didn’t possess. Bryan was down there wearing a black tux with a blue bow tie that matched her dress. He blushed as he saw her. “You umm… look pretty Jana.”
      Jana had to smile. It was kind of cute, in a weird sort of way. “Thank you.” His nervousness was clear, she didn’t need her huntress senses to see that. She sat down at the kitchen table and let Paula paint her face. It was kind of like war paint, just for a different function. When she thought of it that way it wasn’t so bad.
      Once painting was over Bryan nervously put a corsage on her wrist. The touch shocked Jana at first, and her first instinct was to jerk away, but she managed to suppress it. She blushed though. Bryan had cleaned up from greasy nerd into a kind of cute teen boy. Gah! What was she thinking? Well as long as he didn’t talk about comics or nerd things, it would be ok.
      Paula drove them to a nicer restaurant within walking distance of the hotel where the prom was being held. “Call when you’re ready. I’ll be discreet about picking you up so you aren’t embarrassed. Now let me get some pictures.” Jana smiled and stood next to Bryan, she even endured him putting his arm around her. “Could I get some copies, before I leave, to umm remember this by. I like to get keepsakes from each place I go to.” It was a total lie but what was she supposed to say? My skull wants some pictures?
      This got a warm smile from Paula. “Of course you can. It’s a digital camera and I have a very good printer. I can make you some copies. Now let’s get going.”
      Being a good sport about it Jana got into the back seat and let Bryan sit next to her. Just for one night, it would be ok. The dress, those weird pantyhose, the awful heels that she almost fell in with every other step. Jana was glad she had really good balance, or she probably would have broken something just walking to the car. Bryan had even opened the car door for her. It was kind of sweet, how far he was going to make this nice for her.
      Both of them were quiet and fidgety on the way to the restaurant. As they pulled in Paula handed Bryan a small stack of 20s. “You take good care of her.” Paula smiled and Jana blushed. That was a lot of money, Paula had spent who knows how much on Jana, let her stay in their house, and this was all she asked of her guest was to let her son take her to prom. Even though Sylvia hadn’t said it, she hadn’t needed to. Jana knew it was also her responsibility to make sure Bryan had a good time too.
      Bryan hopped out of the car, and helped Jana to get out. It felt, kind of nice. Jana felt she could almost get used to this. She watched Paula drive off. Now it began. Bryan opened the restaurant door for her. Of course she was perfectly capable of doing it for herself, but it she let him do it anyway. She uttered a soft thank you as she stepped inside past him. He was being so sweet. The two were lead to a table. Apparently they had reservations, and while the restaurant looked a little crowded, they probably wouldn’t have needed them. She saw a couple of other prom couples, but not the problem ones. No one seemed to notice her. Just as well.
      They sat down, and menus were placed on the table. It took Bryan a few minutes to speak up, but he finally did. “Thank you for doing this for me, Jana. I know you’re only doing it because mom asked you too, but thank you anyway.”
      It caught Jana off guard. The mixture of sincerity and yet a little sadness. Of course he would have wanted to land his comic girl on his own, but he probably never could have. She had been so stand-offish. “No, thank you. For taking me.” It sounded sincere, and maybe she even meant it. It even brought a smile to his face.
      “Mom told me you didn’t come from that convention. That you aren’t from around here.” He paused as a waitress came by with water, and to take their orders. He ordered his and Jana nodded and pointed at what she wanted, this very tasty sounding pasta dish with chicken. She let him order for her. She thought she caught a quick blush. He got them some Brushcetta as an appetizer. “I’d like to know more, really. Mom told me a little, how this world wasn’t… right.”
      It did seem a little comic bookish as she explained how there had been 42 people in a diner who had gotten their wish because it’s what she said she wanted. Bryan listened intently as she explained how she had to fix things by collecting wish stones. Each wisher had one inside them, that they had to give up willingly, and when they did their wish would reverse and that part of the world would return to the way it was.
      Byran thought about this a while. “Will I remember you when the world changes?”
      “I don’t know.” Jana finally answered. “I never really considered it. But… I don’t think so. Things would go back to the way they’re supposed to be, as if it hadn’t happened. I don’t think anyone but me will keep the memories, and even then I’m not sure I will once it’s done.” He looked disappointed, and Jana felt bad for him. “I’m sorry.”
      Bryan shook his head “No… that’s your mission. It’s what you have to do is make the world right. Kind of like a…” He paused “Well you know.” He paused again as their appetizer and sodas came. Once the waitress left with a smile at them, Bryan continued. “Even if I can’t, you know, it will be a nice memory while it lasts. Maybe I’ll see you again when it’s all over.”
      Jana didn’t have the heart to tell him that even if he did, he wouldn’t recognize her. She was an eight year old girl in a teenager’s body and mind. She nodded at his words “Maybe.” She didn’t know what else to say, so she didn’t say anything.
      “Has it been fun? Do you have exciting adventures?” Bryan was curious, but he seemed like he didn’t want to press too hard. Still, she could indulge him a little.
      I’ve gotten to meet a lot of neat people. Marty, a former road rally racer who wanted just one last race, which was with me. That was the one just before here. Don, Jill and Cynthia. He had lost his wife and daughter.” She choked up a little. “Taking them away was hard. I still feel bad, but… he had that last moment of happiness. She had wished for it. As a ghost. They were still together when I left.” She wiped at her eyes as Bryan soaked all of this in.
      Then there was Allisandra and Mee Lien. Allisandra had wished… well this was a strange one.” She sighed “I took something precious to her away from her too. She wanted the body she had. I think she was born a man and wanted to be a woman. I don’t really understand that, but… it was what she wanted. She became a sorceress in the process. Very snarky woman. I fought ogres with her. Mee Lien is a bard. She was full of advice and chasing after a song of creation. Real or not, it was a pretty story. I don’t know where either of them got off too either. Sometimes I feel like I just hurt people when I do this job.”
      “Sylvia. She’s the skull in my box. She was the waitress that took my wish order. Her body was destroyed. Now she’s a talking skull in a box. Her magic helps me. I think she wished to live forever. Jin, he was the only person I actually helped. He was stuck eating his former favorite food, rabbit stew and it’s all he could eat.”
      Bryan reached across the table and put his hand over hers. She could feel his hand shaking just a little, but she could also feel the warmth and the reassurance he was trying to give her. “I don’t think you are. I would have wished for something stupid. Like being a super hero. I think these people need to go back to their real lives.” He sighed softly “I’m no better, trying to live in a fantasy world. We all want to escape. But you can’t escape what’s real you know? This date, your story, it shows me so much. You could have tried to run too, but you stayed and did what was right. You go every day and you make things right, no matter how hard it is. That’s what heroes do, Jana. You’re a hero and you should be proud of what you do. I am.”
      Jana looked at the table. She’d never really thought of it that way. “Thank you” She uttered softly. It seemed like so little against all he and his mother had given her. He pulled his hand away to take a piece of bread, and Jana did the same. As she ate it she sighed inwardly. He wouldn’t remember this, but she would.
      “You’re not taking anything away from me you know. You’re giving me something, even if I can’t keep it forever.” Bryan watched as Jana looked up and let her eyes meet his. “I’ll have these memories a little while. And they’ll be good memories. A short time when I wasn’t Bryan the comic nerd, but Bryan, the escort to a special woman. I know I didn’t have a wish since I’m not flying around saving the world from super criminals, but until this world fades back to reality after you get that stone. I’ll have this. One night with a woman better than I’d ever get on my own.”
      Jana didn’t know how to respond for a moment “I think you could. If you tried. You have a strong personality, sweet, but quirky.” She went back to eating her bread.
      The conversation lapsed into a comfortable silence. Jana wondered now, when she got back, and then got older, what kind of boy she would date. The eight year old in her reminded her that it boys were icky. But the teen had to wonder. Would it be a closet nice guy like Bryan, maybe a total jerk like that guy who she beat up, or something else?
      Dinner coming interrupted her train of thought. Bryan spoke again “I wish I could go with you. It would be exciting. I think better than any wish I would have made.” Jana bit her lip. He was laying it on a little thick now. He seemed to catch the cue and switched the topic. “Do you remember your life before?”
      Jana nodded “Yes. But, I was a lot different than now.” She looked away unwilling to say more and began eating so she didn’t have to. Bryan thankfully didn’t seem to have any more questions. She could tell he didn’t really know what to talk about.
      They had nothing in common. All he could do was ask her about things, push the flattery, or bore her to death with comic chat or whatever else it was he did.
      The bill came as they finished and neither wanted dessert. Bryan paid and left a nice tip and they began walking to prom. Then he asked an awkward question. “Could I hold your hand as we walk?”
      Great, something else she had no idea how to answer. No would be put offish, but she kind of didn’t want him to. Finally she nodded, and he slid his hand around hers. It wasn’t so bad. His hand was warm, and it gave her something to help balance in these infernal heels. Why did women wear these things? She put it into the same category as pantyhose. Things she would never wear when she grew up.
 

      Thankfully the walk was short. The pair entered the hotel, and as they approached the ballroom, Jana could already hear the music it was modern pop. Back home Jana had never really developed a musical taste. The ten years as a more feral huntress had made her appreciate the sound of nature. This was anything but that sound. She wondered now, would Bryan or even her remember all this when it was all said and done? Or would her time spent here just disappear? A distant memory of things that seemed too unreal to be true. It wasn’t time to think about that now. Now, she had to find Stephanie. Jana was certain she was the one who had the stone. What she had said at the hair place… It made sense, for Steph to be the wisher.
      Finding Steph would prove to be far more difficult in this throng of dancing teens. Bryan had said something about punch and ran off. Just as well. Jana didn’t want distractions as she began the hunt. She looked at the features of the room. There was no real high ground save standing on a table and that didn’t seem like the best idea. Jana moved to the wall, searching the crowd for some sign of Steph, or even one of those other three jerks.
      It took her a little time before she spotted Steph slow dancing with one of the male jerks. It wasn’t the one that had attacked her but he was probably nearby. Jana approached cautiously. There was no telling what prey might do. The last time she’d talked to Steph she’d been nice. It was the guy she was worried about.
      Marcus spotted Jana first. “Isn’t that the crazy leather girl?” He asked Steph with a snicker.
      Steph looked back and rolled her eyes “Yep. That’s her. Don’t start anything. Maybe she’ll just go away.” Wait… what was she saying. Hadn’t Jana come to help her? But… did she need help? Wasn’t life better this way? No! Of course it wasn’t. She wasn’t herself anymore… was she? Steph felt so confused. She looked at Jana uncertainly. The huntress stopped her approach, looking wary.
      Marcus let go of Steph as they stopped their dance. “I’ll get rid of her.” Steph began to protest, but he just shrugged it off as he had decided he was going to protect Steph from the nutjob. “What do you want freak?” He stood over Jana looking menacing. “Why don’t you crawl back under your rock?”
      Jana looked at him undaunted. “I came to talk to her.” She pointed at Steph.
      Marcus looked back at Steph, who looked uncertain. He met Jana’s eyes again “She doesn’t want to talk to you though.”
      The huntress narrowed her eyes. She knew the intimidation game. He was puffing out his chest, making himself larger. Animals did the same thing to drive off predators, making themselves look dangerous when they were harmless. He already had a good 6 inches and 75 or so pounds on her. She didn’t really see the point of it. “Well if she decides she might like to speak for herself, I’ll be over by the doors.” She pointed just in case he wasn’t smart enough to know what a door was.
      Steph’s head began to spin as thoughts began to swirl in a stormy tempest. Jana was her salvation from this nightmare. No… that girl was a freak. But she could end all of this. End what? Life was better. She had friends, people looked up to her. She was popular. But at what cost? It was all this balancing act now of hiding her intelligence, and faking interest in frivolous things. But you like those things, the attention, the adoration. It’s what you wanted. You made that wish.
      The confused teen held her head as a headache formed from these two halves of her personality battling it out in her mind. “Marcus. I need some air. I don’t feel so good.”
      Marcus frowned “You don’t want to go talk to that crazy girl do you? She’ll probably drag you off in the woods and eat you or something.”
      The idea was so stupidly ludicrous. Steph wondered where it even came from. “Umm… I don’t think she’s into cannibalism, Marcus.” She shook her head, as the environment of the ballroom seemed to be attacking her. Everything was spinning, the voices and music getting louder, the people seemed to get distorted and calling to her, and she felt herself slipping away. She was losing herself. “I really… don’t feel good. I’ll be back soon ok?”
      Marcus frowned. Steph wasn’t going to go to that crazy girl. He wouldn’t allow it. Who knows what she might do? He looked around and spotted Gen and Steve and purposely made his way over there. He shoved past a few people and growled slightly daring them to say anything. Gen looked up at Marcus as he approached and spoke. “That crazy girl. She’s after Stephanie for some reason.”
      Steve stopped dancing with Genevieve, let go of her, and cracked his knuckles. “I knew I should have put that girl in her place the first time. You and me, we can take her. I don’t care how smart she thinks she is.” As the trio began to follow Steph, none of them considered why really they cared. Something just told them that Jana couldn’t be allowed to talk to Stephanie.
      Jana spotted Steph stumbling out of the ballroom and quickly went after her, just as Bryan was arriving with the punch “Jana wait!” he called after her and began to give careful chase as to not spill the liquid from the small cups.
      Steph was leaning against the outside door. “Jana… I… I can’t hold onto me much longer. Tell me how to get out of this. Tell me there’s a way”
      Jana nodded and started to speak as Bryan popped out the door behind her, and then the trio of Steph’s friends out the door on the other side. “Let her alone, you freak!” Steve bellowed as she began to run towards Jana.
      Ok prey didn’t usually run at her. So she had to treat him like a rival predator. The keys were to stay focused, note the second predator circling around to her left and be aware of both of their actions. She was about to move when suddenly Steve fell flat on his face. The shock threw her just enough off guard to allow Marcus to slam her into the wall. “Ughnnnn” She grunted.
      Genevieve wasted no time in grabbing Steph’s arm “Come on, we won’t let that weird girl hurt you.” She slowly pulled the stumbling, confused girl away from the fight.
      Hotel security, they’d break up the fight. Throw them all out. But it was better than Jana getting beaten to a pulp. But why did she care? Because Jana was the only person who could save her… from… something… This life. The life that wasn’t hers and she’d only thought she wanted. She started to pull back “Gen, they’re gonna hurt her.”
      Stephanie almost screamed as Gen looked back at her with almost soulless eyes “Stephanie. This is what you wanted. We’ll go back inside, you’ll be crowned prom queen, and that horrible girl will be gone. Your life will be great. You’re popular, the top of the heap. This is better.” Genevieve tugged Steph back towards the door. “All of it is waiting for you, just beyond that door. All you have to do is go inside, and take it. The better life you wanted.”
      Bryan started to run to Jana’s aid when a meaty hand grabbed his ankle causing him to trip hitting his chin hard. “You screwed up little nerd. I’m going to end you too. There’s no lockers, but I bet there’s a dumpster I can toss trash like you and your little creepy girlfriend into.” Steve threatened with a growl. “But first, I’m going to kick your ass all over this hotel.”
      Jana squirmed as the larger boy managed to pin her arms by the wrists to the wall. “Whatcha gonna do now, jungle girl?” Marcus taunted “You can’t jump around and puuuunnn….” His word trailed and his body crumpled. Jana had found a very effective use for her knee and then a kick with a high heel shoe as he crumpled. Planting them in his crotch.
      Steve meanwhile had quickly overtaken Bryan in their mad scramble. Bryan’s to get away and Steve’s to begin mauling the little nerd freak. He landed a solid blow to Bryan’s stomach, effectively incapacitating the boy, smiling as Bryan curled into the fetal position holding his stomach. “You’re next you little bitch. Once you’re down I’m going to beat both of you to death and drop you into a trash can. Just like the garbage you are.”
      Steph watched, frozen. Uncertain. Why hadn’t anyone come to stop this? Shouldn’t there be someone from the hotel spotting them, calling the police, yelling at them to stop, something? Why was Bryan here? And why did she care? No… she did care. Jana wanted to help her. Jana was the only one who could help her. She did want help, right?
      Genevieve tugged her towards the door again “Come on, Stephanie. There’s nothing for you out here. You and I, we’ll be friends. Marcus will be your boyfriend. You always wanted that. All you have to do is step through the door. We’ll all go to a party school and be the most popular there. Make new friends, and spend our lives, popular and happy. That’s what you wanted.”
      Jana kicked off her heels, and found that her stocking feet were no better on the slick uncarpeted floor. Wasn’t this floor uncarpeted before? As Steve started to get up, she planted a kick to his face, but he just shrugged it off and kept getting up. What was going on? That kick should have at least turned his head. She almost fell over as she landed it, as her other foot slid a little. She just barely managed to keep her balance. Jana so hated pantyhose now. The huntress was determined she was never ever wearing them ever again.
      Steve stood up fully taking two punches to the face and a kick to the groin from Jana as if he were made of steel. It even hurt a little when she hit him. She needed some distance between them, As she turned to run he quickly reached out and grabbed her hair, and yanked the smaller girl back into bear hug tight enough to immobilize her but not enough to hurt.
      Jana gritted her teeth and squirmed. “Steph… you have to release the wish. It’s the only way this will end. You have to want to give it up.” She felt her body being lifted off the ground and kicked and flailed uselessly with her legs searching for some solid purchase to gain leverage. “Let go!”
      Genevieve shook her head. “No, Steph, you can just walk inside. Steve will let her and the nerd boy go. I promise. Once you go inside, you’ll forget all about them.” She opened the door and waved her hands encouraging Stephanie to enter. Laughter, sounds of people having fun, and soft romantic music came from beyond the doorway, also beckoning, almost promising her that things would be better if she just went inside . “You’ll be prom queen, and adored by the school. Then adored in college and the rest of your life people will look up to you. It will be wonderful.”
      Steph looked between the struggling Jana, Genevieve, and Bryan. The nerd boy lay there holding his stomach with both hands. His teeth were gritted and tears fell from his eyes. Bryan was a little odd, but even in this world, he was true to himself. Tomorrow, he’d be back to sorting his comics, and playing online games. But he’d still have this one night. The night he got to take a pretty girl to prom. Sure he got beaten up. But that happened all the time. What would she have? A lifetime of lies? No, a lifetime of happiness. But it was all a lie… wasn’t it?
      If I walked through that door, would I always have to hide her intelligence from them? Put on a mask of stupidity. Or even worse, would my intelligence fade away and I become as vapid and shallow as they were? And what if it did? Then I wouldn’t be me anymore. Sure you would, just a different self. A better you. What has being smart ever gotten you? Looked down on, treated poorly. It won’t make you rich, it won’t make people like you anything but miserable.
      Jana started to say something when Steve clamped a hand over her mouth. No amount of biting at his fingers would make him release her mouth or the rest of her. No amount of kicking and flailing was getting her anywhere. She was being carried off. She was not going to fail. Not now. What would Sylvia think? Sylvia would never trust her to go out alone again. There had to be a way.
      Of course! She couldn’t hurt him, but he still had a human body, and still had human weak points. She kicked her dress under foot, and as he began to stumble, wedged a foot into his knee. He was forced to let go of her as he wind milled his arms to regain his balance. Jana hit the ground running. She’d gotten use to the slickness of her stockings on the floor, even started using it to her advantage to slide across the floor like her mother used to yell at her for doing in the kitchen in her sock feet.
      Jana slid back over to Stephanie. “Listen to me. I can see it in your eyes. I heard it in your voice. This wish isn’t what you wanted.” She caught the girl’s confused eyes and held the gaze. “Inside you is the wish stone. If you willingly give it up, this nightmare, it’ll end and you’ll still be you.”
      Stephanie closed her eyes and shook her head “I want it to end. I can’t take this anymore. All this pulling me in different directions. Going against what I know is right. Hiding who I am. I don’t want to live this way. It’s worse than before.” Her chest began to glow, with a light Jana had seen before, as an oval shaped blue topaz rose out of Steph’s body floated in front of her for just a moment, then dropped into her hands. She stared at it a moment as everyone around her seemed to freeze. “This is it. My wish?”
      Jana nodded and looked at Stephanie. “When you give it to me, you release yourself from it, and life goes back to normal.” Stephanie looked at the gem a moment more before offering it to Jana with outstretched hands. “You take it. I don’t want it anymore.”
      As Jana took the stone, Marcus, Genevieve, and Steve filtered back into the prom as if nothing had ever happened. Bryan began to pick himself up and the color was coming back into his face. Steph cocked her head a little “So what happens now?”
      Jana shrugged “I don’t know really. I’ve never stuck around to see what happened after. There’s so many of these things out there and my job is done.” She sighed “Things, go back to normal on their own. I don’t know how long it takes. A day or two maybe… or maybe it’s already happened. You did fall off their radar just now.” She looked back at Bryan “I… guess I have a date to finish.”
      Stephanie shook her head. “I can take over where you left off, Jana.” She looked at Bryan “If you’ll let me.” Bryan didn’t say anything, he just nodded vigorously. Steph smiled, then turned back to Jana. “Thank you, for helping me. You saved me from myself really.” She smiled at Jana, who smiled right back.
      Jana watched them disappear into the ballroom again. Maybe sometimes, she did help people. She had helped Jin after all, and Marty. Marty had been happy at the end too when he gave up his wish stone. It didn’t take her long to locate a phone and call Paula for a pickup.
      A few minutes later Paula arrived. As Jana got into the front seat, she looked around for her son. “Just you?” She looked confused. “Where’s Bryan?”
      “Dancing with a girl who actually appreciates him for who he is.” Jana responded with a smile.
      Paula nodded and began the drive back “Did you get what you were after?” As Jana answered with a yes she nodded “So I guess you’ll be leaving soon.”
      “It’s dark, you could wait until morning and stay the night if you like.” Paula offered
      Jana nodded “Thank you. Stephanie is a nice girl. I think you’ll like her.” It was such a grown up thing to say. It struck her as odd to be saying it. But then, her grown up senses had been really working overtime these past few days. She’d be happy to get back to secretly dreaming about unicorns and rainbows without telling Sylvia about it. Being grown up was hard after all. And you had to wear stupid clothes.
 

      Jana hadn’t realized how tired she was until she barely managed to get out of her dress and into her nightshirt that Paula had lent her before she was asleep. Morning came, and the smell of breakfast aroused her. Bryan and Paula seemed to be in exceptionally good moods as the bleary eyed Jana came downstairs. “Morning sleepyhead.” Jana nodded at Paula’s greeting with a yawn.
      A plate of food was already waiting for Jana as she sat down. Paula looked over at Jana as she began to eat. “What you did for that girl, and for Bryan. I can’t thank you enough. She wanted me to thank you too. You’re right, she is a nice girl.” Jana smiled and a soft breath escaped her nose in a hint of amusement.
      “Thank you too, for letting me stay, and spending all that money. I left the dress and everything upstairs.” Jana took a bite of food.
      Paula thanked Jana again “Take the pantyhose with you. They’re yours.” She laughed as Jana wrinkled her nose. “You might find a use for them other than wearing them. They are nylon after all. And it’s not like I can return them. Stores don’t take things like that back after they’ve been worn.”
      Jana shrugged, it wasn’t like they’d take up much room in her pack. She finished off breakfast and went upstairs to rouse Sylvia. “It’s time to go.”
      Sylvia considered this a moment “So you got it?” After Jana nodded Sylvia spoke in a praising voice. “I knew you would. We’re going back the way we came from the next one.”
      Jana made an odd face “Why didn’t we just go get that one before coming all the way out here?”
      “Don’t make faces. One day your face might stick like that.” They both had a laugh at Sylvia’s motherly statement. “Well because I detect them as I detect them, Jana. The spell works the way of all magic and it doesn’t always point you down the shortest path.” She paused as Jana put the pantyhose in her bag after the other clothes she’d acquired. She took note that Jana had kept the bra on as the girl began pulling out her leathers. Was that odd article of clothing a memento, or maybe Jana starting to blossom into full womanhood and realized she needed it. “Jana take a shower before we leave. The wishstone isn’t going anywhere and who knows the next time you’ll get the chance to take a hot shower. And I want to see that photo soon.”
      Jana considered that a moment, and then Jana took Sylvia out of her box and set the photo before heading to the shower. Sylvia wished she had lips to smile with. Seeing Jana growing up, getting the wishstone on her own. At that moment, she couldn’t have been prouder of Jana or happier seeing that photo. Sylvia hoped one day, she’d see a photo of her daughter just as beautiful in her prom dress as Jana was in this one.
      Paula was waiting downstairs for Jana. “I guess this is goodbye then.” She looked the girl over. Externally, Jana looked identical to the first time Paula had first seen the girl. But internally, something was different. There was a little more confidence, a little more happiness. She hugged Jana, which was returned. “You’re welcome here anytime.”
      Jana smiled. It was nice having places to return to. Or at least, that people would have been willing to have her back. Yet the world looked the same. Felt the same. Only things for Stephanie and Bryan had changed. The wish was a personal one, only really affecting Stephanie, so the miniature world should have reverted quickly. Jana pondered this a moment. Maybe it already had. If the location was the same, and the people the same, the only thing that really would have changed was Stephanie and the way people saw her. How close was she to the real world here in this place?
      It gave her something to think about as she walked back to where her bike was parked and had been left untouched since she left it. “Ok Sylvia. Let’s get going.” People pointed and stared or pretended to ignore her. She saw Genevieve and company drive by, with a new girl that had replaced Stephanie. It seemed almost as if Stephanie had never been with them at all. They yelled jeers at her, but not out of recognition, just because she was dressed oddly. The world had turned back, because almost nothing had changed in the first place. And Jana was all too happy to leave this fixed part of the world behind her.


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