A Change of Pace – Chapter 4

“Welcome to West Private University, Miss Martin,” the housing representative smiled and accepted Angela’s driver’s license to check against a spreadsheet. The smile had a false quality that said this wasn’t the first or last time she’d be doing this routine today. She was only a year or two older than Angela and probably just an upperclassman trying to work off some of her tuition before being buried in student loans. “You’re down in Townhouse #117. Here is your key and inspection worksheet. Please fill out the worksheet and bring it back here within one week. You will be responsible for any damages not annotated on the worksheet. Enjoy your first semester!”

Angela smiled politely before picking up her single suitcase and leaving the administrative building. Her assigned housing was all the way across campus so she put her head down and trudged through the late August heat. <It should be a good workout,> she attempted to take a positive view of the whole situation.

She’d been unceremoniously teleported onto one of campus’ secure teleportation locations by her father. He gave her a quick once over to make sure she had everything before wishing her a good semester and disappearing in a pop. There was more emotion in the housing reps good wishes than her fathers, and her mother couldn’t be bothered to come along.

The tears welled up, but she pushed them down along with the discomfort of walking a few miles in Florida heat. For the first time she was glad her parents allowed her only one bag. “Move quick, travel light,” her parents always told her before one of their fifteen moves or when they wouldn’t buy her a toy. If she needed anything else while she was here she could buy it somewhere in Orlando. Angela’s parents’ hero merchandise sold well, so she was well enough off that no one would even notice. Financial support was one of the few forms of unconditional support she got.

She counted down the number of townhouses as she made her way down a street on the perimeter of campus. There were well over 200 on this stretch, so she only had to go about halfway. Townhouse #117 was a three story brick building with a small porch. It sat nearly across from the Student Union, so getting meals at the eateries there would be convenient. There was a single garage capable of holding two cars, so the street was crowded by those forced to find alternative parking. This was often the case because each townhouse on the street was designed to hold five students. In addition, the townhouses were unisex, something some parents found disconcerting. Angela didn’t care and she doubted her parents did either.

She stepped onto the porch of her new home covered in sweat from the humidity not the physical exertion. She pulled open the screen and pushed open the door and was immediately hit by two things. The first was the cold refreshing blast of the townhome’s powerful air conditioning. The second was an ear splitting screech that resembled nails on a chalkboard.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” a slender girl with blue hair done in pigtails bounced towards her. “Hiya, myname’s Rebecca butyoucancallme Becca. It’s swelltomeetyou. Needanyhelpwithyourbags,” the animated woman sounded like a rapid fire machine gun.

“Wha…” Angela’s mind struggled to cope with several emotions.

The first was surprise. Her blue hair didn’t have discoloration at the roots so she was obviously a Super, and therefore another HCP student. This helped explain how Angela only caught every fourth word she was saying. The second emotion was jealousy. Despite all of her training over the summer Angela was still sporting some extra weight, and her mother never let her forget it. Even a cursory glance at the blue haired girl showed she had no such issue. She had long legs, a tight butt, a flat stomach, and a respectable bust. Even her face had a lively beauty to it. Angela’s final emotion was embarrassment after staring dumbfounded for a bit too long.

“Sorry,” the girl flipped her pigtails over her shoulder and took a deep breath. “Let me try this again. My name is Rebecca, but you can call me Becca. It’s swell to meet you. Do you need any help with your bags?”

“No thanks, Becca, I’m good,” Angela easily lifted up the bag to show its lightness. “I’m Angela,” she held out her hand.

Instead Becca wrapped her up in a hug so fast she didn’t have a change to protest. “We’re going to be besties,” the obvious speedster cheered before releasing her and hurrying back into the apartment. “Mom, Dad, my first roomies here. I told you it would be a girl.”

Mr. and Mrs. Becca’s parents were very ordinary, unassuming people possessing none of the considerable energy their daughter did. They also appeared to be old fashioned conservatives who weren’t on board with the universities progressive housing policies. They introduced themselves and gave her apologetic smiles as Becca vibrated around the family room area. They’d already helped her unpack but didn’t want to leave until someone else showed up.

“You know I seriously love you guys, but you can really go now. Angela and I will be fine,” Becca brushed off any remaining concern her parentals shot her way.

With a sigh, hugs, kisses, and a whispered “good luck” to Angela, Becca’s parents departed. This left Angela the sole focus of Becca’s attention. “So it’s pretty obvious I’m a speedster,” her grin showed perfect white teeth , enducing another burst of jealousy from Angela. “What is your power.”

“I’m a shifter,” Angela said proudly, her image issues were whipped away at remembrance of her shifted form. “But that’s all I’m going to tell you before the initial combat rankings.”

“Combat rankings?” Becca’s confusion showed Angela just how much of a country bumpkin Becca was; a loveable bumpkin but a bumpkin nonetheless.

“Sometime soon everyone in the class is going to fight each other and get ranked by whatever criteria our instructors use. Those ranks will follow us through the entire program and determine if we’ll make it to being a Hero,” Angela explained, glad to have the upper hand for the moment.

“Why do we have to fight each other?” the speedster clearly didn’t want to fight her only friend.

“Becca, we’re training to be Heroes. Heroes fight criminals, and it doesn’t always end peacefully,” Angela’s parents drilled this into her from the moment she showed her powers, and threw her into training with the best martial arts experts they could afford.

“I guess that makes sense,” Becca shrugged off the unexpected revelation and returned to her exuberant self. “So what do you want to do? Do you want to know anything about me? Want to get something to eat? Want to wait on our next roommate and ambush them?” Becca wasn’t quite back into machine gun mode but she was close.

“Well…” Angela scrambled for a question. “How fast can you run?”

“My fastest so far is 702 miles per hour,” Becca beamed, but then became very serious. “Another 66 and I’ll break the sound barrier.”

The speedster’s unexpected intensity made Angela nervous. <I need to keep an eye on her. She could be a dangerous opponent.>

Becca had a question locked and loaded but before she could answer a booming knock echoed throughout the townhouse. “Roommate number 3, too late for the ambush,” Becca was at the door in a blur.

The sunlight was completely blocked by the massive man standing in the doorway. Even Becca was momentarily rendered speechless. His dark skin, black t-shirt, and dark jeans made it seem like a sliver of night was squeezing through their front door, which now that Angela looked at it was a pretty large door.

“Hello,” the massive man’s voice was soft and almost shy. “I’m Mason Jackson, and I guess I’ll be rooming with you lovely ladies.”

 

***

 

Kyoshi Schultz couldn’t help but stare as the giant hunk of a man, a.k.a. Mason Jackson, helped unload the last of her boxes from the family’s rental van. She was pleasantly surprised and grateful that there was actually someone taller than her living in the townhouse. She hadn’t been looking forward to a year of being the freakishly tall one. Her new roommate, she still had trouble believing the fact, lifted the heavy boxes as easily as her Papa did. The only difference was Mason didn’t constantly shoot glares at her father when he wasn’t looking. Her mother just sat silently with a tiny grin to match her petite frame.

<Daughter, please don’t fawn over the boy so obviously. I have to keep your father company on a five hour flight back home. You’re going to give us both heart attacks. Just promise me you’ll use protection.> Kyoshi’s pale hair and complexion made the brilliant blush that much more noticeable.

<Mother!> Kyoshi’s mental exclamation was cut off by the closing of the van’s trunk.

“Finished,” her father gave the slightly smaller Mason one last side glare before engulfing her daughter in his massive arms. “If you have any problems with these boys you give me a call. I have a teleporter who owes me a favor so I can be here in a second.” His statement was clearly meant to be heard by more than Kyoshi. She read Mason’s embarrassed thoughts before he quickly headed back inside. Her father looked very pleased at his statement’s effect.

“Papa, you’re embarrassing me,” Kyoshi still hugged him fiercely before shooting him her own glare. “I’m sure the boys here will be perfect gentlemen. Besides I can more than defend myself.”

“That’s my princess,” there were tears in her father’s eyes.

Many turbulent emotions were pin balling around the massive former German Heroes mind. He was proud she wanted to put others before herself. He was scared to lose his only child to a cruel world. He was suspicious of her roommates, especially Mason. But everything was encompassed by and overwhelming sense of love. No matter how ugly things got or how much she failed or succeeded he would still love her. Kyoshi found herself whiping away a few tears as her parents drove away.

<Pull it together,> she chastised herself before heading back into the townhouse.

The layout of the building was pretty standard. The bottom floor held the kitchen common room, one bathroom, and two bedrooms. A staircase led to the second floor which contained another two bedrooms and a bathroom. The stairs continued to the top floor which consisted of a single bedroom. The bedrooms were a blank slate. White walls that were haphazardly painted at the end of every year and a linoleum floor made to look like wood were what everyone had to work with. There was a twin bed with a cheap mattress, a small desk to do homework at, and dresser for your clothes. The common room and kitchen were equipped with some rudimentary furniture but it was probably more comfortable to sit on the floor than the lumpy couch. Kyoshi knew everyone would undoubtedly be losing some of the security deposit by putting nails into the walls for pictures to make the environment homier. She also wanted to get everyone to chip in for some better furniture and probably a T.V. She wanted the townhouse to look more like a home and less like a prison.

Becca was bouncing around the common room like a ping pong ball arranging and rearranging the furniture. A quick scan showed the speedster was a ball of fear and excitement. The revelation that she would be engaging in combat in the near future fueled the first emotion, while proving what she was capable of drove the second. Kyoshi enjoyed the animated woman’s constant energy but realistically knew it would be problematic in the future. Sometimes you just needed to pout and someone constantly trying to cheer you up was annoying.

“You’re free!” Becca squeaked as Kyoshi closed the door behind her. “Once everyone is unpacked we’re all going to the dining hall for dinner.”

“That sounds great, better get started then,” Kyoshi moved towards her room off the common area.

Becca took the room on the third floor. She had that right since she was the first one to arrive. Being a speedster also helped when five people would be fighting over two bathrooms, so it was only fair she was farthest from them. While Becca seemed eager to engage her new roommates, Angela was the opposite. Kyoshi had received a polite but terse greeting before the woman secluded herself in her room. Angela’s emotions weren’t as easily discerned as Becca’s.

Angela was complicated. On the surface she was a wall of determination. She’d always wanted to be a Hero, her family was Heroes, and she would stop at nothing, including going through her roommates, to achieve that end. Beneath the frightening level of resolve was sadness and self-loathing. The woman always seemed to focus on the negative aspects of herself, especially her weight. Kyoshi thought this was ridiculous. Angela was stockier in her build, but she wasn’t fat by any stretch of the imagination. Kyoshi would kill to move with the grace either her female roommates possessed. Although this seemed to feed the sadness within the blond haired Super there were much deeper scars that Kyoshi did not dare delve into. If Angela opened up to her roommates it would be slowly and on her own terms.

Angela occupied the first room on the first floor, and after a little thought Kyoshi took the second. Mason had settled into one of the second story rooms, and it would simply be too distracting living right across the hall from the yummy man. She’d only spent a few hours with the Super but he was tall, strong, funny, kind, and chivalrous. Something she though long dead in the men of her generation.

<Wait,> she mentally checked off the man’s desirable qualities and groaned with realization. <I just described my father.> Luckily, she was alone to wallow in her psychological conundrum.

She was majoring in psychology at West because there couldn’t possibly be a better major for a telepath. She’d taken A.P. courses in high school so she was well aware of the concept of daughters picked men like their fathers and sons picking women like their mothers. She just didn’t think she’d be one of them. After a few moments she came to the same conclusion many in her situation probably did, <I could do a whole lot worse.>

            She focused on unpacking the heavy duty cardboard boxes scattered around her small room. She didn’t want to keep her new friends waiting, and she needed to get her mind off Mason. His nice smile, kind eyes, and large muscles continued to intrude on her thoughts. She hoped their last roommate showed up soon. If it was another guy maybe it would draw some of her attention. She shrugged at the thought doubting anyone could sweep her off her feet, both figuratively and literally, more than the bear of a man living above her.

 

***

 

Seth pulled his Porsche into the partially occupied garage of Townhouse #117 just as the sun dipped below the horizon. He was a little pissed off by the argument with housing, and being forced to live in this dump. He’d wanted to rent his own apartment off campus, something up to his standards, but apparently freshman and sophomores had to live in campus housing. It was a ploy to squeeze the most money out of their charges as they could. Recognizing that fact didn’t alleviate his dread as he looked at the slightly ramshackled appearance of the townhouse.

He didn’t have anything but a single suitcase in his passenger seat. He kept everything not appropriate for the humid climate back up in Charlotte. He would simply buy everything he needed before classes started. A glance at the mound of cardboard at the curb placed him as the last resident to arrive. He fervently prayed that he was rooming with someone with appropriate taste and means, and if that failed a cute little thing for routine satisfaction. The coed nature of university housing was a role of the dice.

Not bothering to knock Seth opened the thin wooden door into his new home. It was like a genie heard and granted his wish. The first thing he saw was the backside of a female roommate.

<Mmmmm…now that is a nice ass,> the woman’s particular feature was accentuated nicely by the cut off jean shorts.

<Wow could you be any more of a pig,> Seth snapped his head to the left only to find himself staring at a perky pair of double D breasts. <My face is up here, jacksass.> Seth had to look up to find the hard yellow eyes of the amazon woman.

Seth thought himself on the tall side at 6’2”, so he usually ended up looking down on people. Finding himself suddenly on the smaller end was a little off putting, but he adapted quickly. He didn’t discriminate when it came to beautiful women.

“Good our last roomie is here,” the woman with the nice backside turned quickly, too quickly, at his entrance. “Hi! I’m Rebecca, but you can call me Becca. Angela is still in her room so you can meet her in a minute. Kyoshi is right there to your left, and here comes Mason.”

For the second time in twice as many seconds Seth found himself coming up on the losing end of the height battle. The Mason guy was huge, probably half a foot taller than Seth. Being number three where you are used to being number one pushed the Super further out of his comfort zone. <Where are these people from and what are are they feeding them?> Seth kept the smile on his face as the mountain in human form approached him.

<Mason’s from Brooklyn, I’m from San Francisco, and nothing special as far as I’m aware,> Kyoshi replied.

“Hello, I’m Mason Jackson,” the man extended a hubcap sized hand to Seth.

Both Mason and Kyoshi’s clearly decipherable simultaneous statements alerted Seth to his monumental blunder. Kyoshi was a telepath, and everything she’d said so far was projected straight into his head.

<Bingo,> the telepath’s tone matched the grin on her face.

<This is just great,> Seth kept the well-practiced smile on his face as he shook hands with Mason and tried not to get distracted by his two female roommates’ assets. <Rooming with a god damned telepath I’m never going to get any action.>

            <Not from me you aren’t,> Kyoshi’s lips didn’t move as she drilled the hard truth into Seth’s head. <I won’t pry, but if you screw with me or my friends every woman on this campus will know the scumbag that is Seth Abney.> Seth gulped despite of himself and quickly reassured the large woman he would follow her wishes.

“Good we’ve all met and are starving,” Becca rubbed her growling stomach for emphasis. “Let’s all go grab some grub and get to know each other.” Her smile was infectious, and Seth couldn’t help but grin.

<I guess it could be worse.> He would fondly remember this moment in 24 hours and kick himself for being so stupid.

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