By Haya Barakat
"So, when'd you figure it out?" Phillipa asked Chloe, taking a sip of her coffee. After school ended, they had walked ten minutes from their school- San Marino High School- to the nearest Starbucks. Chloe liked it. It had white brick walls at the back of the counter, pale brown grid floor tiles, and a lyptus wood counter with a couple still-life photos and detailed paintings in intricate, dark wood frames hanging on the walls in neat rows and a few people sitting at tables with drinks or pastries, most on their phones or talking to others.
Chloe placed her own coffee on the table in front of them and peered out the window. The two had sat at a table right next to a window overlooking a quiet street and small neighborhood across from it. "When I was six. I woke up with blonde hair instead of brown," Chloe answered, chuckling at her answer. "I freaked out so bad but I didn't want to tell any of my family. They'd probably just accuse me of witchcraft."
Phillipa snickered. "Same. They don't like the way I dress. They think girly-girls are weak."
Chloe nodded. She could definitely relate to that. "Yeah, they don't like me being a 'punk'. So when did you figure out your....powers?" Chloe was still uncomfortable using that word- 'powers'. It made her feel like she was a superhero, but she didn't feel very heroic, at least not yet. Maybe she could do some sort of good with her abilities, but no ideas came to her.
"Same as you, actually. I was eight and I woke up as a dog."
Chloe almost spat her coffee out. "What?!"
"Don't laugh, it was literally traumatizing! Do you know how scary it is to try to get out of bed and you fall off and you're two feet tall? And think you went colorblind?!" Phillipa exclaimed, playfully slapping Chloe's arm as the latter cracked up. After a while she composed herself and Phillipa's arms are crossed over her chest with a fake pout on her face.
"Jeez, I'm sorry, that just- Wow." Chloe laughed again. Phillipa chuckled in response.
"Yeah, I know, it was ridiculous. But- in all seriousness- why do you think we have these powers in the first place? And why us two, especially since we go to the same school and live so close to each other?" Phillipa asked. Chloe immediately stopped laughing. Instead, she shook her head, drumming her fingers on the table with her lip quirked downwards. She's been wondering the same thing for nine years. Why did she have the power to change her appearance, and copy others'? Why did Phillipa have the ability to change into animals? What did any of it have to do with her? There were millions of questions Chloe wanted answered, especially since Phillipa joined the picture.
"I don't know. I've been doing research for a while now, but I could never find anything except religious stories and superhero junk," Chloe replied. Phillipa smiled a little at that.
"Maybe we shouldn't think too deep into it. And just be grateful we have these powers in the first place," Phillipa considered, gazing out the window at the passing cars. She looked deep in thought, her lips parted and eyebrows scrunched a little. When she looked back to meet Chloe's eyes, her usual infectious smile spread across her face again. Chloe couldn't help but smile back and glanced around the coffee shop. There weren't many people and the sweet scent of coffee wafted through the air. The sounds of baristas making coffee and chatter of strangers was always comforting to Chloe. She didn't like socializing, per se, but she didn't like being alone, either. She worked better when surrounded by others, especially when she didn't know them. It was just consoling, being around others without having to talk to them.
Chloe nodded in agreement. She didn't like not knowing where her powers came from or why or how she had them, but at least she did.
"Yeah." Chloe chuckled. "And it's kinda fun to mess around with, no?"
Phillipa stared at Chloe before a sly smile spread across her face. "What do you do?"
Chloe's eyes sparkled. "Nothing bad. I just change my appearance around every now and then, walk a mile in someone else's shoes for a bit. No one real, of course, but people of, you know, different races, religions, genders. I get to see how everyone lives and how people treat them based on how they look and act. I can do and say whatever I want, cause at the end of day, no one will ever know it was me," Chloe explained carefully, her voice somewhat different. It wasn't as raucous and raspy, but smoother and softer, and a little quieter. She sounded the way melted chocolate looked. She drew circles on the table with her fingertips and when she looked back up at her fellow shape-shifter, Phillipa had a warm smile and raised brows.
"That sounds so cool. I'd trade your power for mine any day. I usually travel with mine. Like I said before- blackbirds are my favorite. I fly around to different states and I'm hoping to travel out of the country one day if I can. For now, I go to closer places like Seattle and Las Vegas." Phillipa sounded different, too. She was talking faster than normal, and her voice was higher and thicker, and she wasn't stuttering like she normally did. And she used a lot of hand gestures. At one point she almost smacked her drink off the table.
"So...what are we gonna do?" Phillipa asked hesitantly after a moment's silence between the two shifters. Chloe stared at the dark brown wood table for a bit, pondering that question.
She sighed, looking back up at Phillipa who had wide eyes and an edgy expression. "I don't know. Just keep this between us, I guess. It's not like anyone would believe us if we told them, and I don't think they'd take it lightly if we proved it," she replied, fidgeting with her earbuds on the table.
A disappointed look flashed across Phillipa's face. "Kinda sucks we have to keep this a secret." Her let-down expression melted away to give room for another beaming smile. "But at least we have the same power! And we don't have to keep secrets from each other," she stated, poking Chloe's arm hidden under her leather jacket. Chloe smiled at the optimistic blonde.
There was a silence between the two, but not the awkward kind. Like the type of silence in a movie theater after everyone cheered during a scene, like everyone's savoring the happiness they felt, sucking it all up in silence as if to not ruin the moment. That and the aroma of coffee, the cozy and homey feel of the café, the soft chatter of people around them, the sunshine filtering in through the windows warming the two girls up, and the taste of the sweet coffees they bought (after quite the hassle of 'Who's gonna pay'), Chloe and Phillipa were at peace with another person for what felt like years since they discovered their abilities. And while Chloe hated calmness and preferred the thrill of adventures and fun, she couldn't say the same looking into the sky-blue eyes of a high school blonde girly-girl across the table from her.