Sally felt stuck in her own body. She sat at the edge of her bed and stared at her hand. It did not fizzle, pop, slurp, or warp. She focused harder, and the skin turned a nice shade of purple. She smiled at that until it faded back to her normal dark skin.
“God fucking dammit!” she swore and ran her hands through her hair. A deep anger jutted through her body. She was on the verge of tears.
“Whoa,” came a voice from the hallway—and a pink furry creature stood in the doorway. “That’s not an okay word, Sally,” it said, its voice guttural.
Sally’s eyes were wide with panic, but she was also still shedding tears.
The pink thing paused before it was going to say anything else. A soft rustle went through all of it, and the pink shrunk and melted into his skin. After a few moments, about ten seconds if someone had been keeping track, her father stood there, wearing floral pajamas.
“Okay, Sally, what’s happening?” he asked.
She held up her hand and screwed up her face in concentration. Her skin grew a single scale and then it faded away just as fast with a soft rustling sound.
“That—why can’t I do it?”
Her father sat down at the edge of the bed. “It can take a long time to learn how to do it. It’s always a little faster for girls, but not by that much.”
Sally was still focusing, trying to make her skin at least a little colder to the touch. That was not too much to ask, not really.
She did. And let out a long sigh. More tears came down over her cheeks. “I just hate how the other kids in the class can—”
She turned a bit red. That part not by her own choice.
“Can make themselves prettier than me.”
Her father blinked once. “Oh…”
He breathed the next few syllables out long and sharp. “Oh. Okay. Is this about a boy? A girl? A non-binary person?”
Sally stiffened. That told him something. “No,” she lied.
He placed a hand on her head and patted it. “It’s okay to tell me. I was your age once, you know.”
A slight frown. “That’s a platitude.”
And her dad let out a sigh, not disappointed, just tired.
And, for a second, she could not be upset. They were friends, her and her father. And she got what most kids did not get until much later in their life: that parents were simply them, but with more time to sort out themselves.
“It is a platitude. We only have them, sometimes, when we need to explain. But, it’s okay, Sally—you will eventually find that you can become all sorts of things. This is something you can learn.”
“It’s something you can study, yeah,” he said, his eyes lighting up with something. A spark—pulse. Pop. Electricity. “I have some books on it if you want. Trust me—you can learn how to shift, everyone does eventually.”
“But I want it now—everyone else has been doing it for so long, and he—”
She stopped herself but frowned harder than before.
“Oh, so there is a he, huh? And he is with someone prettier?”
“She can be as pretty as she wants.”
Her father tapped her on the head, once, twice. She looked up at him, and he had this little smirk.
“You okay with another platitude?” he said.
“Not usually,” came her response.
“Well, you’re going to get one more anyway,” he said and shrunk down. His extra matter was somewhere in the air, charged and waiting to flow back into his body. He looked her age—with maybe a little more facial hair than a younger boy should have.
She could not help but giggle at the sight of a mini-dad.
“You can be as pretty as you want. For the right person, you will be impossibly beautiful, almost all the time.”
He stuck out his tongue and made his skin have a series of fuzzy polka-dot markings. A little pair of horns also rose out of his head.
“We all have our bad days,” he said and winked.
She had no choice but to laugh now, giving a solid snort. Then, for moments, silence. She relaxed her shoulders. A little of something escaping from her. She did not notice it, but her hand had been covered in fur up to her wrist. It faded away gently during that silence.
“Thanks, dad,” she finally said.
Her dad let his own form melt back into his full-sized body. He hid his proud smile: he had seen the fur. She was already on her way toward being whatever she wanted. She would work that out on her own, someday. In the meantime, she could still be beautiful, even if one boy did not notice it.
“Of course,” he said, and rotated his shoulder. It was always a little odd to be smaller for even a few moments. The molecules rushed back with such a jolt.
“I love you, Sally.”
“I know it’s not the same. It’s not the same kind. But, just, if you feel alone, and even if you don’t, I love you.”
She sighed and then smiled. “Yeah, I love you too, dad.”
He stood up and walked to the door, pausing at the precipice.
“Hey—come down when you feel up to it. We can watch a movie or something.”
Sally nodded. And he walked out of the room.
And he beamed, so wide, when, one hour later, he heard an excited cry coming from upstairs.
“I did it! Oh my god! I did it!”
He smiled to himself. “Knew you could, Sally.”
Sally looked in the mirror, seeing her skin golden and shiny, seeing how her eyes were now flat silver disks. It was how that girl that boy was with had looked. Perfectly so.
So, what was off?
She tilted her head and let the gold fade. The silver melt away.
And, instead, she let flowers grow from her scalp. She let a wooden sheen come over her skin. And Sally smiled.
Because she liked that look a lot more.
Special thanks to: Bob Gerkin, Collin Pearman, Dylan Alexander, Jerry Banfield, and Michael The Comic Nerd.
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