Indian Summer had come
after a cool spell, wrapping
the world in warm damp air
and lazy afternoons again.
Ansel's grampa had always
called these "muscadine days,"
when nobody felt like doing much
but lying in the shade eating grapes.
It reminded Ansel of the importance
of community ties, too, so that Saturday
he got back in touch with Skippy and
invited the teen out for an afternoon
at the nearest sprayground.
Skippy accepted, showing up
in neon orange boardshorts and
a blue-and-orange t-shirt tie dyed
with an impressive yin-yang pattern.
Ansel's outfit was a little more sedate,
blue swim trunks with manta rays and
a sky-blue t-shirt that said, Hug a cop today.
They may save your life tomorrow.
They took Ansel's car because it was just
too hot for biking or even waiting for the bus.
"Want to synch up?" Skippy asked as he
got in, offering his smartphone. "All it needs
is your phone number or vdress and then if I
push the Oh, Crap! button, the program connects
automatically to any paired device in range."
Ansel gave him both, because his vidwatch was
waterproof but his smartphone definitely was not,
and he preferred the larger screen if feasible.
"So how are things going?" Ansel asked
as he keyed in the requested information.
"Okay, I guess," said Skippy. "I'm back
in school -- I'm a junior this year.
People are already starting
to bug me about college."
"Do you want to go to college?"
Ansel said, tipping his head.
"I dunno. I think it would be pretty hard
with the teleporting," Skippy said.
"Probably so, but by then you might not
be skipping anymore," Ansel pointed out.
"I know. I'm trying to keep
my options open," said Skippy.
"Have you thought about what
you'd like to do for a living?"
Ansel asked. "Not everything
needs a college degree. For some
jobs, people go to trade school
or a special academy, or they
apprentice with an expert."
"School counselor didn't mention that."
"Well, that's not very helpful, is it?"
Ansel said. "You need to know
what your choices are before you
can make an informed decision.
Do you ever like to hang out at
the Corner Joint after school?"
Skippy shook his head.
"Nah, it's too far from home."
"Their Jobs Office covers the whole range,
plus they have flyers and quizzes to help
teens figure out where their talents lie and
how to turn that into a career," Ansel said.
"You could get your parents to drop you off --
or it's open on weekends, we could go today."
"I think I'd like that," Skippy said,
giving Ansel a bashful smile.
"Then it's on the schedule," Ansel said.
"Wow, that is a lot of water," Skippy said
when they pulled into the parking lot
for Dancin' Drops Sprayground.
"That's what I thought the first time I came here,"
Ansel said. "It turns out that they run the park's
whole supply of water through the sprayground.
After it passes through the sprinklers, it goes for
things like irrigation and flushing toilets." He waved
a hand at the stretch of grass and trees dotted with
picnic tables around a pavilion which lay beyond
the colorful equipment of the sprayground proper.
"That sounds really cool," Skippy said.
They spent a pleasant half-hour romping
through the water and exploring the features.
A tough rubbery base provided a splash-pad
to reduce slips and shunt fallen water on
to its other uses. Abstract shapes of red
and orange invited users to invent games.
Above the splash-pad stood an array of
different devices sprinkling or spurting water.
There were mist arches, river pipes, bubblers,
umbrella fountains, and a dragon water slide.
Rainbows flashed in the fine spray.
Tiny nozzles lurked in the ground that would
douse you if you stepped on them, and there
was a lily pad game also based on step triggers
where if you guessed the pattern correctly, you
could either cross it dry or turn on every
frog spitter at once for a few seconds.
In fact most of the features turned on and off
based on people's movements, which both
conserved resources and provided interest.
As they watched, two tween girls stepped up
to a waterproof screen that allowed programmers
to redesign the "solution" to the lily pad game.
Ansel's thistle-bright hair had turned
a darker red-violet when wet, and he
collected a few hugs from soggy toddlers,
which made Skippy grin at them.
The teen played a round of waterball with
several older boys, too, and held his own
quite well. He was a capable athlete,
even without his full growth yet.
When Ansel and Skippy got tired and hungry,
they sought out the ice cream stand nearby.
To their delight, it had muscadine sherbet,
made from the musky black grapes that
grew wild in the forests and hedgerows.
"It's good stuff," said the old man as he
handed over their bowls, "but if this doesn't
fill you up, come back for a frozen protein shake.
You boys were playing pretty hard out there."
"Thanks, we'll keep it in mind," said Ansel.
As they both sat down with their treats in
the pavilion, he added. "Weird. People
keep saying things like that to me."
Skippy licked his spoon thoughtfully
before replying. "Your appetite is
kicking up, isn't it? But you haven't
really noticed yet. It happens."
Ansel resisted the temptation
to run a sugar-sticky hand
through his wet pink hair.
"But I'm not doing anything,"
he said. "It's just a color."
"Maybe so, maybe no," Skippy said.
"I saw this documentary about
animal courtship and it said that
bright colors show good genes,
because they're hard to grow
and they attract predators.
It makes them better mates."
Ansel had gotten a few ... offers,
since his hair color changed,
several of them less than polite;
but he already had a girlfriend
so he hadn't paid much mind.
Maybe he should have.
"What does that have to do
with my appetite?" he asked.
"Making vivid colors requires
a great diet," said Skippy
"For birds or fish, it means
they have to spend more time
hunting for food. With you, it just
means you need to order more."
The teen reached to flick the end
of his spoon against Ansel's dish.
Startled, Ansel looked down --
and saw that it was almost empty.
He hadn't even realized that
he was inhaling it that fast.
"Huh," he said.
"A lot of soups need more fuel,
and not just the strongmen and
the speedsters. Some teleporters,
some others -- even a few crayon soups,"
Skippy said. "I read up on this stuff."
"So, protein shake?" Ansel conceded.
"Protein shake," Skippy agreed,
unzipping a plastic cash card from
the secure pocket of his boardshorts.
"I buy this round?"
"Go ahead," Ansel said.
A few minutes later, Skippy came back
with a Black Forest Cake for Ansel
and a Snickerdoodle for himself.
"This is amazingly good," Ansel said,
letting the thick, frosty stuff roll
over his tongue. He could taste
the chocolate and the cherries,
and maybe some banana.
"Yeah, I was torn between this
and the S'mores one," Skippy said.
Then he gave Ansel a sidelong look.
"In case you haven't heard ... people
who drop hints about food like that
are usually soup-friendly."
Ansel hadn't heard, actually;
his ability was simple enough
that he hadn't thought about
getting a mentor the way that
new soups usually did, and
maybe he should have.
Then again, maybe he just had.
"Thanks for the tip," Ansel said.
"It's funny, I expected to be helping you,
but it looks like you could teach me a lot too.
You've been a soup for longer than I have,
so you know more about it."
Skippy ducked his head, a shy smile
curling the boy's lips. "Cool."
"We could even register it at SPOON,
if you like," Ansel said thoughtfully.
"It would do us both some good,
me for getting some proper coaching,
and you for the teaching experience."
"Yeah, they have pair programs
and everything," Skippy said.
"So that's another thing you might
consider for the future, if you enjoy it,"
Ansel said. "Soup mentoring, counseling --
I bet they never get enough volunteers
for the amount of work that they have."
"We can register it," Skippy agreed.
"I think we can help each other, really.
I still need to get a handle on my skipping,
and it's safer to practice if I have more people
who can actually keep up with me on foot.
I don't mind showing you the ropes of
being a soup. Think I still have some
of the dietary handouts -- you can
have those, I memorized them."
"Thanks," Ansel said.
He really hadn't thought about
how his choice might require
other lifestyle changes, but
he wouldn't go back on it.
"You're welcome," Skippy said.
"Having fun yet?" Ansel asked.
"It looked like you made some
new friends out there today."
"Yeah, it was great," Skippy said.
"What about you? Enjoying your job?"
Ansel grinned. "I love it," he said.
"I get to meet lots of people and help them.
I'm doing more community outreach now,
that's a favorite -- and the Chief wants me
to take on more soup work. I admit that part
is kind of scary." He gazed into the dregs of
his protein shake. "I'm just a crayon soup,
I don't have any special powers."
"But it helps anyway," Skippy insisted.
"It's what caught my eye that time when
I was skipping and needed help. I saw
your hair and thought another soup
would be a safer bet than a nary
who might turn out to be a fork."
"I'm glad I could help," Ansel said.
"When I started this, I was really just
thinking about showing support, but it's
proven a lot more solid than I expected.
More real. I'm still figuring it out."
"Yeah well, even if you tangle with
supervillains, at least it's one soup
telling another to shape up, and not
naries trying to boss us around,"
said Skippy. "Friend of mine who's
black says it's the same way there,
a lot easier to deal with a black cop
than a white one, or whatever."
"That's why we need a mixed force,"
Ansel said automatically, which he
and Chief De Soto had been urging
for years. Then he thought about it
in a whole new light, soup and nary.
No wonder the Chief kept
leaning on Ansel to make himself
more visible in the community.
There were only a handful of
superpowered police anywhere.
"So everybody has a say in what's
right or wrong," Skippy echoed.
"We covered that in civics."
"You've mentioned some friends,"
Ansel said. "Do you get along okay,
or do people pick on you because
of the skipping or something?"
"They're fine," Skippy said.
One fingertip chased a drop
of dew down the side of his cup.
"I mean, some people are dumb,
but my real friends were just so glad
that I survived the accident, they
didn't care about anything else."
"Good friends," Ansel agreed.
"What about you?" Skippy said.
"You're newer to this. Has anyone
razzed you about the pink?"
"Not as much as they could be,"
Ansel said. "The first few weeks
were the worst for that -- I had
some serious tangles with bullies.
But word's getting around now."
"Friends and family?" Skippy said.
Ansel laughed. "Ah, my jerk cousin Billy-Jay
asked me if anything had changed color
'below the neck,' if you can believe it."
"Well that was rude. What did
you say?" Skippy replied.
"Asked if his eyebrows had grown back
since the fourth of July," Ansel said.
"He tried to smoke some firecrackers."
"Sounds like you got all the brains
in the family," Skippy said, snickering.
"I mean, I can't blame anyone for wondering,
but you just don't ask stuff like that."
"It's down to my chest now," Ansel said quietly.
One finger tugged down the collar of his shirt
to show a tuft of pink. Then he tilted his arm
for comparison, displaying the brown strands.
"My hair's always been lighter on my face and
chest than my head and arms, I don't know why."
Skippy shrugged. "My uncle Erik has
the most amazing wheat-blond hair
down to his waist, perfectly straight,
but his beard is curly and red," he said.
"Mine grows in dark blond but then
bleaches to wheat. I don't know what
my beard will do, I can't grow one yet."
"Give it time," Ansel said. "I couldn't
grow one until I was twenty, and then
I realized I looked silly in goatee."
"Hard to imagine," Skippy said.
"The pink suits you, though.
I'm glad that you like the way
it helps with your job."
"Me too," Ansel said as he
scooped up their empty cups.
The protein shake had finally
filled the gnawing hole in his gut.
"I'm making good progress on
the anti-bullying campaign, but it
still needs work. Want to pitch in?"
"Why me?" Skippy asked.
"You're a teenager, a soup, and
living with disability," Ansel said.
A few taps at his vidwatch activated
the air conditioning in his car.
"Three useful perspectives."
"Okay, that makes sense,"
Skippy said. "Show me
your program some time,
and I'll tell you what I think."
"Thanks," Ansel said.
By the time they reached the car,
it had cooled itself, a welcome relief from
the hot day which had already dried them
more effectively than any towel.
They drove to the Corner Joint,
a youth center that offered weekend
and after-school activities from
kindergarten through high school.
As promised, the Jobs Office had
a big bulletin board full of want ads,
thick pamphlets for different colleges,
academies, and trade schools; one entitled
So You Want to Be an Apprentice; a workbook
for post-school plans; plus the flyers and quizzes.
The portly man behind the counter
leaned forward on his elbows to listen
as Skippy described his classes,
hobbies, and favorite recreation.
That added another handout
to the stack. Ansel hadn't thought
of search-and-rescue as an option,
but Skippy's agility could certainly
be put to excellent use there --
all the more so if the teleporting
ever worked itself out properly.
On the way out, Skippy called
his parents to let them know
that he was heading home.
Afterwards he glanced at Ansel and said,
"They trust me, you know? It's not that
they don't. They just ... worry, because of
the skipping, and I hate to stress them out
like that. It's hard enough already without me
forgetting to call. Sometimes my friends tease
me about cutting the cord, but --" He shrugged.
"-- I love my folks. This is a thing I can do
to make them feel better, so I do it."
"I'm impressed," Ansel said. "It takes
most boys longer to learn how to think
about the way other people would see things,
not always the same way they look from inside."
"Yeah, but Mom says they'll grow out of it,
long as they don't die from being young
and stupid first," said Skippy.
When they got to Skippy's house,
his parents came out to greet them.
His mother read Ansel's shirt and chirped,
"Fair game!" before wrapping her arms around him.
"Thank you for taking Skippy out today. I teach
grade school, so it's been a riot here."
"You're welcome," Ansel said. "I wanted
to catch up with him to make sure that he's
really okay after that skipping incident, but
it worked out to my advantage too. Skippy
agreed to mentor me in soup stuff."
"That's wonderful!" she said.
"Are you getting enough to eat?"
said Skippy's father. "I could throw
a few more burgers on the grill."
So that was the source of
the tantalizing aroma floating
around the corner on a breeze.
"I would love a hamburger,"
Ansel said, and let them tow him
to a gazebo in the back yard.
There were even grapes chilling
atop a layer of crushed ice in a cooler,
black muscadine and golden scuppernongs
as sweet-sharp as summer's end.
* * *
Billy-Jay Nicholson -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and curly light brown hair cut short. He is short and husky. Billy-Jay is the cousin of Ansel Nicholson, and they have a tendency to pester each other at family gatherings. Billy-Jay is several years younger, and works on a family farm. He is accident prone due to low impulse control and a penchant for performing dangerous stunts.
Qualities: Good (+2) Imagination, Good (+2) Farmer, Good (+2) Hunting and Fishing, Good (+2) No-Good Friends, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Hey, Y'all, Watch This!
Erik Seinfeld -- He has pinkish-fair skin and blue eyes. His hair is fine, straight, and blond, reaching all the way to his waist. But his beard is curly and red. Erik is married with a wife and two children, a boy and a girl. He is the uncle of Ryker Seinfeld. When Ryker was stuck at home after his accident, Erik came over and redecorated his bedroom to make it both more accessible and more appealing. Erik works as an interior designer, usually making public buildings more beautiful, but he also saves some time for family projects. However, he's fussy about keeping everything tidy, and he hates to get dirty. God help us if anything gets into all that hair.
Qualities: Master (+6) Secure in His Masculinity, Expert (+4) Interior Designer, Good (+2) Family Man, Good (+2) Graceful
Poor (-2) Fastidious
* * *
Indian Summer is an unseasonal flash of warm weather after the temperature cools in autumn. While typically dry and hazy in the north, it gets muggier in the south.
Followup with survivors after an upsetting incident is one of the finer points of Emotional First Aid. Terramagne folks understand that trauma can create new bonds as well as destabilizing older relationships, so they take steps to maintain as many healthy connections as possible. That requires time and energy, but the investment pays off with a stronger social fabric.
A sprayground is a waterpark that uses fountains instead of standing water. One stylistic difference is whether the park uses potable water in a pass-through system or treated water in a circulating system. Many Terramagne sprayparks favor potable water, and they avoid wastage by making the spraypark the first stop for water moving through a park system. It's still perfectly usable for all graywater applications such as flushing and irrigation.
Dancin' Drops Sprayground in Bluehill is inspired by Loose Park Sprayground in Kansas City, Missouri.
This dragon water slide has a slide through the head, a spray arch in the body, and sprinklers in the tail.
This is Skippy's yin-yang shirt. Learn how to make one. Boardshorts are long swim trunks intended for surfboarding or other watersports.
Here is Ansel's "hug a cop" t-shirt. Despite the page's stingray caption, his swim trunks are actually printed with manta rays.
There are a few waterproof smartwatches, but so far they're all phone-dependent, not freestanding computers like a Terramagne vidwatch. Ansel's is a very sleek and discreet model similar to this.
High school graduates have many choices for their next step, but not all schools acknowledge this. Among the possibilities are educational tracks through college, trade school, or apprenticeship. In order to make the right decision, it is crucial for students to know what they are good at and enjoy doing. Learning this is the fundamental purpose of adolescence, as young people prepare for adulthood. Here's a good workbook for that process. Supportive adults can help teens explore options.
Police training is one of the possibilities; people can start with college or go straight from high school into the academy. It has evolved over time, and cities that care about their citizens will invest extra resources and training into their police force for everyone's safety. Bluehill isn't swimming in resources but they do a good job with what they have. There are instructions on becoming a police officer.
Muscadines are wild grapes that grow in the south, with a distinctive sweet and musky flavor. They make excellent sherbet.
Scuppernongs are a subtype of wild grapes; generally muscadines are blue to black while scuppernongs are yellow-green to bronze. You can buy vines for both, but many people prefer to forage for theirs. They ripen in late summer through autumn.
Frozen protein shakes resemble nutritious milkshakes, easy to make using frozen fruit. Check out the Black Forest Cake; the Snickerdoodle is a variation on the Sugar Cookie made by adding cinnamon. Superpowers often, though not always, create an extra drain on the metabolism that increases appetite to compensate.
Biological ornaments are colorful or otherwise extravagant features which serve no practical purpose, but may figure into mate selection. The peacock's tail is a classic example. Although many people find visible superpowers to be off-putting, others find them attractive.