“Welcome!” Sandy’s mother said, “You must be James,” she said and wrapped him up in a hug which he wasn’t expecting. “And you must be Jennifer,” she said doing the same. “Hi, sweetie,” she said to Sandy coming through the door last giving her a hug and kiss. Sandy’s mother looked like her daughter, of similar height and build, and had the coloring of Sandy. “I’m Sue,” she said shutting the door, “and this my husband, Carl.” Carl was much taller than his wife, taller than James, and had a full dark beard, and the look that James recognized as the default for fathers meeting their daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, which he could tell the look was just for him as it vanished when he looked at Jennifer. “And final our son, Sandy’s brother, Brain,” she said pointing to the last one, who looked like a younger, less hairy version of his father, who returned a half-hearted wave.
Sandy and Andy had invited James and Jennifer over for Thanksgiving since it was impractical for them to try to get home for just a long weekend. Sam’s parents had gotten him a plane ticket, and Michael was close enough to drive home, and he’d invited the last three with him, although they had to poke and prod to get Allison to agree to go. Apparently she’d never had a good Thanksgiving and tried to act like the holiday didn’t exist. It took Hope threatening to stay home alone and pout with her, to convince Allison to relent. So James and Jennifer were now going to be staying with their girlfriend’s parents for four days.
The first real snow of the year had hit earlier in the week, making the whole holiday really festive. James and Jennifer sat on the couch, Sandy between them and started talking. They’d been warned ahead of time what was coming. In order to get all four sisters in on the conversation they would be switching between all four every five minutes, and randomly, depending on what kinds of questions their parents would be asking.
“How are classes going?” Sue asked sitting across from them.
Sandy switched to Andy then Candy, before ending on Mandy who started to talk, “They’ve been great. I’ve gotten an A on all tests, homework and quizzes so far in all of them.”
“You’re doing them all? And doing that healing work study? I hope you’re also leaving some time to go out and have some fun,” Sue said concerned.
“I, ah, went to the Halloween Party,” Mandy said weakly.
“The one that got attacked by a Super Villain?” Sue said more concerned. All parents had been notified about the attack and after that everyone who had parents that cared about them had been on the phone with them for hours. Several, including James’ mother had threaten to come and visit, for whatever reason she thought she could help.
“Well, yes,” Mandy said before switching to Sandy. “They don’t know it was a Super Villain.”
“It was a ‘Super’ with ‘Villainous’ intent, that’s the definition of a Super Villain,” Sue said more calmly than James’ mother had when he had to explain the incident to her, or maybe it was just because Sue had a few weeks to come to grips with it. “And James, how are you doing after the attack? I heard you got it bad.”
“Oh, yes ma’am,” James said caught off guard a bit. “I’m fine, my own power, and Mandy’s power healed me up within a minute.”
“Mandy didn’t tell me that. She said her turn was over before it happened,” Sue said. Mandy was quiet and unassuming and it felt like Sue felt like she had to protect her.
James hoped he wasn’t saying something Mandy didn’t want told, “I asked Sandy to send her back out and then Mandy was mostly in control the rest of the night to deal with the wounded.”
“Good for her,” Carl said loudly. “Girl needs to be in thick of things more.”
“And how about you Jennifer? Were you hurt during the attack?” Sue asked her.
“No, she didn’t get near me,” Jennifer said.
The conversation about the attack went on for a while. Even Andy and Candy who hadn’t been present for the entire night offered their two cents. There just weren’t enough answers to give any kind of peace of mind. But still, it was exciting and dangerous and parents and students both wanted to discuss it. Finally, they got back to more conventional topics, like how’d they all met. It wasn’t really that interesting of a story though, because everyone pretty much knew everyone else down in the HCP so there was no cute story. Although, the fact that they both decided to ask out the girls on the same day, at roughly the same time, was apparently interesting. Then they talked about their first dates.
“And you were attacked on the street by a gang?” Sue asked Andy.
“Those guys were nothing,” Andy said arrogantly.
“And what about your sister’s secret identity? Didn’t you risk that?” Sue asked.
“No, we read and reread all those rules that pertain to multiple personality powers and I was in the clear,” Andy said smugly.
“Well, still, I don’t like the idea of you fighting.”
Andy laughed, “You’re really going to have to get over that mom. We fight all the time in gym and when we make hero it will be even more.”
“You know what I mean young lady, no need to talk-back about it,” Sue said sternly.
“And what about you James? What’d you and my daughter do on your first date?” Carl asked staring him down like he was going to say drunken orgy or something.
“We went to the aquarium,” James said and felt Sandy grab his hand. “There was no gang fighting, I promise,” he half-joked.
They then moved on to talk about their families; a sore subject. James’ was pretty easy, his was 99% truth and he just omitted that he knew the true identity of his father. Jennifer should have been just as easy, but she was really uncomfortable denying the existence of her brother, but she did it anyways.
They ordered pizza and spent the rest of the night playing games and talking. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving and the house was going to be full of the girl’s family, which was going to get complicated. Everyone in her family knew Sandy was a Super, but very few knew she was in the HCP, and therefore she likely wouldn’t be dating ‘Supers,’ so they all had to figure out the mix of lies and half-truths, while not insulting the family’s intelligence. It’s a tightrope act they didn’t warn you about when you join the HCP. The real problem however, was that most people weren’t stupid. If you have a Super and a strong Super at that and you tell someone that you’re a student at Sizemore or one of the other HCP schools, then their minds always go right to the truth; it’s why Jackson got so many accusations so early in the year. Then there is a bunch of wink, wink, nod, nod going on; which doesn’t violate the SI restriction, but it’s dangerous. Especially for James and Jennifer who have an extra layer of secrecy that they needed to hang-on to.
It was strange watching the girls really let go with their powers. They switched so often during dinner that people tended not to look at them because it was disorienting. They all made sure to switch while eating, so they could all taste the pizza; it was so weird. All the while James tried to talk to Sandy at the same time Jennifer tried to talk with Andy and all the girls talked with their parents. Hard to imagine how the girls kept it all straight without leading to some sort of insanity. Finally they headed off to bed. James got the guest bedroom and Jennifer would be with Sandy, and Sue made sure to say that she’d be with Sandy and not Andy. Although she wasn’t so blunt as to say ‘no sex’, the message was clear. James knew enough about Andy though to know she wouldn’t be adhering to that very strictly.
Jennifer awoke in Andy’s bed. Last night they’d cuddled and slept; Jennifer didn’t want to disrespect Sue, so that’s as far as she would take it. She pressed her body closer to Andy and reached her hand around her body and then opened her eyes. Instead of seeing the black hair she was expecting, it was blonde, “Candy!” Jennifer nearly screamed, but remembered where she was.
Candy rolled over and looked at Jennifer, “Good morning,” she said with a wicked smile.
“Where’s Andy!?” Jen asked.
“Ha. I assume that’s a rhetorical question and it’s more likely you’re wondering why we switched instead?”
“Yeah, that,” Jennifer said a little more calm, while moving slightly away from her so she would be spooning her girlfriend’s sister.
“It can happen sometimes when we dream. If something in the brain resonates with a certain personality, we can switch unconsciously.”
“That seems like it could be a problem sometimes.”
“It only ever happens when we feel safe and have been shifting a lot,” Candy said. “Like last night at dinner. It would never happen at school.”
“Oh. Are you going to send Andy back out?” Jennifer asked cautiously, not wanting to insult Candy.
“Right, sorry, see you later, cute underwear by the way” Candy said and then shifted.
“Hey, Hot Stuff. Sorry about that,” Andy said leaning over to get a kiss.
“It’s okay, I guess. Just really alarming,” Jennifer said and moved back in close to Andy. “I mean, imagine if you woke up next to James.”
Andy jokingly shivered, “Just one of those quirks about powers we’ll have to get used to. Like how your super body heat makes it really warm under the blankets,” Andy said smiling, while pulling the covers over their heads.
James came out of the guest bedroom and followed the smell of bacon to the kitchen where he saw Sue at the stove and Carl at the table reading a paper. He didn’t see the girls or Jen so he was tempted to retreat until they arrived, but Sue caught him. “Good morning James. Help yourself,” she said pointing to the platters of breakfast foods on the table.
James was trapped so he took a plate and grabbed some food then sat opposite of Carl. “Thank you,” he said and struggled to think of some small talk. Fortunately, he was saved as Andy and Jennifer came in a moment later. They grabbed food and then sat down, with Andy taking the seat next to James, which he could tell she really didn’t want to do. But Sandy would be coming out soon and it was only fair. The girls then began rapidly shifting again, picking up where they left off last night, with Jennifer and James occasionally adding a word or two, but mostly focusing on the food.
Half way through breakfast a woman came into the kitchen that James didn’t know, but who looked familiar. The woman had the same features as Sandy and her mother and was probably right in of the middle of their two ages. But that’s where the similarities ended, this woman was in ridiculously good shape, even better than Sandy, who’d been HCP training for months. Her clothes were expensive, maybe designer, although James wouldn’t be able to pick out a designer shirt from a mall t-shirt; they just fit so perfectly. And her hair was styled and golden blonde, probably dyed, possibly a variant human anomaly, since James was pretty sure this was, “Aunt Ash!” Sandy yelled, getting up from her chair and wrapping her aunt in a hug. Then she shifted to the other three while in the hug.
“Hi girls,” Ashley said, “Hey sis,” she added as she disengaged from Mandy and gave her sister a hug, then moved onto Carl.
“Aunt Ash,” Sandy said. “This is my boyfriend James,” presenting him to her aunt.
“Nice. He’s cute,” Ashley said and smiled in a way that reminded James of Candy.
“James, this is my aunt Ashley, also goes by the codename Scarlet Sphinx on her PEERS team,” Sandy said.
“Why Scarlet Sphinx? What do you do?” James asked before he thought to wonder if the question might be rude.
She laughed, “I had to add the ‘Scarlet’ to the name because Heroes always get the first choices and us PEERS are left to scrounge the bottom of barrel, but I found a little loop hole. All you have to do is add a color to a good name and it makes it all new. Like if you wanted to be Titan, but it’s taken; go with Red Titan or Gold Titan. And I should have been just Sphinx because I shift into a humanoid lion with wings. How is that not a Sphinx?”
“Cool,” James said.
“And Aunt Ash,” Andy said, “This is my girlfriend, Jennifer.”
“Nice. She’s cute,” Ashley said in the exact same way she’d said it about James, which presented a lot of questions.
She then joined them at the table. She took a very small portioned plate, explaining that her sponsors watched her weight, even over Thanksgiving. Then she began to regale the table with her exploits. She was a natural story teller and was bubbly enough to make them all exciting.
“You ever have to fight any supers?” Jennifer asked.
“Legally we’re not allowed, but there was this one time during a fire rescue. I was breaking down doors and suddenly this man made of fire charges out of an apartment screaming bloody murder. He comes right at me and I swipe him with my claws; burned my hand really bad, but I don’t think he was expecting it. He flips out, blasted me through the opposite apartment, through a couple walls and by the time I could get back up and go back looking for him; he’s nowhere to be found. That’s really the closest I’ve ever gotten to a real super fight, except for sparing with my teammates that is.”
After breakfast everyone went to get ready for the day. Sue then started preparing dinner, with Mandy helping. Leaving Jennifer and James once again awkwardly alone with Carl, Ashley and Brian. Fortunately, Ashley continued with her stories to fill any silence and the football games started soon after that. The Detroit Beasts would be playing the Chicago Speed Demons. The household cheering for Chicago, while James was a fan of Detroit, although he wasn’t very vocal about that. Sandy’s family began arriving sporadically throughout the game and soon the house was filled. Carl had three brothers and a sister and they were all there, along with a horde of children of all ages. Ashley and Sue also had another sister who had two of her own children. Once they were all there the cheering section of Chicago was deafening, so it was probably a good thing they ended up winning.
The dining room table, the kitchen table, the extra table, and the kid’s table were all filled to capacity, yet there was plenty of food for everyone. The whole thing was strange to James, him and his mother occasionally were invited to a friend’s Thanksgiving, but generally it was just him and her eating take-out. The massive family thing was overwhelming to him. The girls once again sat between James and Jennifer and switched on the fly to talk and eat. Their family had accepted that they were dating two different people, but kept getting hung up on one of them being a lesbian; apparently that wasn’t well known. And they kept bombarding Jennifer with questions about the lifestyle that she really didn’t have any answers to; Andy was still the only other gay person she really knew.
The question of Supers and the HCP came up more than James was comfortable with, but Sue, Carl and the girls always deftly deflected. James could of course see some of them didn’t buy it, but they were careful enough and stern enough in their answers that he didn’t think anyone in the family would start spreading rumors; or at least he hoped. All-in-all the whole thing wasn’t as bad as James imagined it would be and once the family left, the rest of the weekend went really well.
“Welcome back,” Dean Allen said to the class on Monday after break. “We are now in the home stretch to mid-terms, both in your classes above and down here. So, in order to help you prepare; until the mid-term, gym will now be optional.” The dean laughed at their expressions, “I don’t need to be an advanced mind to know that none of you really believe there will be no consequences to skipping gym and in a way you’re right. This will be about honing your skills, strategy, and techniques, but if necessary, you may also use the time to study for above ground classes. It will be pointless to work on your powers if you fail to meet even the minimum GPA standards. So, the point here is for you to ‘focus’ on what is lacking. And as such, you are expected to work as hard as you would in gym.
“Nobody will be enforcing this, but do you really want Coach Tillman to see you slacking off,” the dean said and watched the class shutter at the implications. “All the professors, as well as myself, will be around to help you with any work-out you’d like to implement.
“In order to help you plan and prepare there are two things I can tell you about the mid-term. First it will be six hours long and second, all of you will be in the same arena at the same time. Take what you will from that.