I noticed the changes while slipping out of my clothes for gym class.
I was never scrawny; I always had a certain thickness about me. But where before there had been soft curves, now there were hard lines--my arms, stomach, and legs had become rigid, harsh planes.
I was trying very hard not to freak out, but it was getting progressively harder.
My hands shook as I put my normal clothes back on. I put on my best sick face--it wasn't hard, since I really did feel like vomiting--and found the gym teacher.
"I'm sorry," I told her. "I'm just feeling really unwell. Is it okay if I go to the nurse's office?"
She took one look at my face and nodded.
In the hallways, my mind started to spin. What the hell had I done? Did I honestly think it had been a good idea to grab a strange looking potion in my mother's laboratory and gulp it down? Was I going to keep getting harder looking--bigger, stronger? Was I going to start looking like a 16 year old female Schwarzenegger?
Calm down, I told myself. Mom was built--maybe even ripped--but she didn't look like she was on steroids. Just need to figure out an excuse to get out of gym class a while. Until we figure this out.
I noticed a commotion down the hall. Dimly, I recognized Anna from the cafeteria--and two other students. One of them was Philip Darden; the other was a girl I didn't know.
Darden was mostly a walking cliche; your standard jock bully, but with a lot of brains. It made for a wholly boorish combination of intelligence, muscle, and spite. The fact that he was out here talking to Spencer didn't bode well for the cape-watcher.
I threw on my sweetest 'good-girl' smile and walked up straight behind him. Anna looked frustrated and flustered; I could tell she was trying to find an out from the conversation, but Philip and the girl had her flanked against a locker.
"Hey, Anna," I said, cutting right through Philip's next sentence. "Mind if I ask you a couple more questions for that report I mentioned?"
Philip stiffened; both him and his friend turned around to stare at me. Anna blinked, looked at me, then at them, then back at me.
"Uh, sure," she said.
"You remember what we talked about, huh, sugar?" Philip said, grinning down at Anna. He gave her a semi-playful punch on the shoulder. Looked like it hurt.
Philip had a foot and a half on me--suddenly I found myself wondering if I could take him in a fight. Not only that, but I kinda wanted to try it--the thought of rubbing that smug jerk's face into the linoleum brought me a secret joy.
That scared me--the knowledge that, on some level, I wanted to hurt him. Was that a side-effect of the elixir, too? A desire to do violence?
Anna slipped free of the group and stepped up besides me. We started moving down the hall; as soon as we were out of earshot, she threw a glance back at them and then turned to me.
"Thanks," she whispered.
"Don't worry about it," I said. "What did they want, anyway?"
"N--nothing," Anna said, stuttering.
"Anyway. I wanted to grab your phone number," I said. "Or your email, at least."
"Why are you really interested in this stuff?"
"I--" My mind bristled, searching for a convincing lie. I settled on half of the truth. "I tell you, you got to promise not to tell anyone else. Swear yourself to secrecy. Slice out your own heart and feed it to your mother before you whisper a word."
"I--uh, sure," she said. "I can do that."
"Okay. I think I might know who the Skull is."
"You what?!" she asked, her voice raising several decibels. In an instant, she checked herself, dropping her voice to a low hiss: "Are you--are you absolutely certain?"
"No," I said, lying. "But I want to check up on a few things, you know? And I was thinking you might be able to help me. I really don't know much about capes--"
"Yeah. I can definitely help you. But you gotta let me in on the loop, okay? I mean, if you actually found him--if you actually found the Skull--holy crap! That'd be, like, the holy grail of superhero secrets!"
She scribbled her phone number and email on an index card she had pulled out of her backpack. I stuffed it into my pocket. "I'll give you a phone call later, okay?" I told her.
She nodded. After she left, I took a moment to enter the phone number into my cell, alongside the email. Then I headed toward the nurse's office.
When I got there, I was surprised to find out that they had actually been about to send for me.
"Sue?" one of the secretaries said, recognizing me as I stepped in. "There's a police car here to take you to the hospital. Your aunt was admitted an hour ago."