Betsy and Aspen looked at each other again, then looked back at Topher. They looked at each other, then at Topher. On the third look, they tackled him, Betsy with a pillow, Aspen aiming for the tickle offense.
Topher fell back, trying to fend off both of them without grabbing anything inappropriate. “What?”
Betsy wrinkled her nose at him. “I’m glad you’re all confident and everything, but there’s a thin line between confident and being a jerk.”
“Well, that’s what I was trying to tell you. Well, I suppose I wasn’t trying so much as hoping you’d read it from my mind,” Topher admitted slowly, “but I mean, I don’t, say, hit on the two of you because I didn’t think I had a chance. But that’s because I thought I was a schlub.”
“You’re not a schlub, Topher! See, that’s what I was talking about! You’re always putting yourself down.”
“I get it, I get it. I said I thought I was, remember? That’s like in the isn’t now-tense or something. So now… well. I still think you’re both beautiful. And I still think I could hit on you. But well… you’re both beautiful. And nothing we did there with the fire did anything about my powers of decision-making. So, uh. I’m going to go to the gym. I think I know where it is. And maybe, hunh. Betsy, you’re super fast but maybe if I worked I could keep up with you if you jogged at a reasonable speed? Get some running in.” He was grinning, but for once he looked happy rather than goofy.
Betsy stared at him. “And this really isn’t about getting into a threesome with Asp and me?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I would totally go for a threesome if I had a chance. But mostly, I just wanted to see if you’d hit me.” He leaned back with his hands folded behind his head. “You are lovely, awesome women, and I think I have some catching up to do before I can seriously proposition either of you. And, well… I’m not the only one used to thinking of me as kind of a schlub, am I?”
Betsy coughed and looked away. Aspen leaned forward, her fists clenching on her lap. “Now, you… you listen here, mister,” she blustered, “I don’t put up with anyone describing my best friend that way!”
“Yeah, but there was never much we could do about the jocks and the football players, and, come on, I knew I couldn’t take them all in a fight and after a while, neither of even tried. We just learned how to work around them, how to hide and how to keep them off our backs, right? Not exactly brave heroes.” He held up both his hands. “We’ve gotten a lot better. And, while we’re being honest: neither the jocks or the Queen bees would be that much of a challenge now, would they? It would be like swatting flies — ha, or bees — with a sledgehammer.”
“I can’t… magic… someone just because they’re a little rude!” Aspen glared at him. “That would be like, like, well, it would be wrong.”
“And I’m not saying magic them. I’m saying, you fight monsters every weekend and most school nights. Betsy, sure, she was picked for this, she’s got the powers. But you, me? We’ve been doing this for three years with just what we got from being born. I know you don’t use your magic normally, you just wale on them with that big old stick, just like I do.” He was leaning forward again, looking intense. “I’m not the only one that has to stop doubting myself in this group, guys. And I’m not saying we should beat the bullies into a pulp… but maybe it’s time to stop being shoved into lockers, hey?”
Betsy and Aspen were both staring at him as if he’d grown a second head.
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