"Huh," Blossom introspectively grunted as she closely examined the three pagers: Buttercup's, Bubbles' and her own. It wasn't just Buttercup's that had been damaged; the outer casings of all three were seared, the plastic burnt and charred. Granted, they weren't indestructible, but —so far, at least— they hadn't been damaged to this degree before.
Then again, they hadn't been using them for very long. In fact, they'd only just acquired them at the beginning of the school year when they'd started first grade and, like quite a few others things had been for the girls, both the concept and the usage of the Hot Line pagers were brand-new and unfamiliar to them.
Buttercup reached out and took hers back. Well, she thought it was hers. At the moment they all looked identical: heat-blistered and ash-y crumbly, like over-roasted, burnt marshmallows. Hefting it in her palm she thought back to when they'd first been issued them…
"No! Oh no! Oh no no no! You gotta be kidding! Ain't no way!"
Buttercup punctuated each appalled outburst with a step backwards, eyes rounded and aghast, her hands held forwards, palms outwards in a 'keep-back-and-away' gesture focused on the parcel in Professor's hands.
She didn't need to open it to know what was inside. Professor had already given Blossom and Bubbles theirs and, predictably, Bubbles had eagerly opened hers so fast Buttercup was surprised the outer wrapping paper and inside tissue papers hadn't ignited. Professor had no sooner explained the packages were their new school uniforms and Bubbles had been off like a rocket, snatching hers and taking off to open it.
Blossom had been curiously taking her package from Professor while Buttercup had still been trying to wrap her mind around the concept of "new school uniforms" when Bubbles held up her new skirt.
"Ooooo!" Bubbles gushed. In a blurry whirlwind first Mary Janes, then jumper dress, then finally tights went flying through the air at the same time the contents of her package visibly emptied. Moments later she hovered mid-air, cooing in cloying delight. "Pretty!" she gaily exclaimed. "But what's this for? What do I do with it?" she asked, holding out a narrow length of fabric.
"I'll show you in a moment Bubbles," Professor replied. "Let me talk to Buttercup first."
"There's nuthin' to talk about!" Buttercup retorted. "I'm not wearin' that and that's that!" she declared, floating up and away.
'That', of course, being the new uniforms, which consisted of a long-sleeved, buttoned-down blouse and knee-length skirt, along with knee-high socks, a badge-embroidered blazer, and a pom-pom topped beret that matched the skirt. There was also a tie (which was the item puzzling Bubbles) and saddle shoes (which hadn't been given to them yet).
Professor Utonium sighed. Today was not going as well as he had (delusionally, it appeared) intended. Perhaps trying to put his girls in a good mood starting off with breakfast hadn't been a wise move. And, quite possibly, serving extra-large bowls of their favorite cereal, along with crisp Belgian waffles, bacon, and glasses of chocolate milk hadn't been as subtle as he'd planned. They'd certainly given him a guarded look before tucking into their bowls of Lucky Captain Rabbit King Nuggets™. It was unreal, he'd thought. Granted his girls possessed ultra super powers, but mindreading had never seemed to be one of them. Yet let him try and sneak something past them…
Right after breakfast he'd told them he had a few things to talk about, and Utonium certainly hadn't missed the darted glances shared amongst his girls. Yep, he mentally sighed, the jig is up.
Once upstairs in their room he had them sit, either on the edge of the bed or in a favorite chair, then began his prepared talk. First off had been the necessity of explaining to them about their new school. That hadn't gone too badly although, as he'd expected, Buttercup still wasn't overjoyed accepting that school was still going to play a major part in her life for quite a few more years. And, also as he'd expected, Bubbles had been sad when he'd explained the major differences between kindergarten and grade school, that explanation having piqued Blossom's interest at the same time it had dismayed Buttercup's.
"Elementary school won't be the same as Pokey Oaks," he'd explained. "You won't have nap time or snack time in elementary school; you're older kids now. You'll have less arts-and-crafts than you did at Pokey Oaks." That had been what had saddened Bubbles. "You'll have more lessons focusing on basic academic learning and socialization skills, introducing you to a broad range of knowledge, skill and behavioral adjustments you'll need to succeed in life —and, particularly, in secondary school. And you'll have homework as well."
All Buttercup had heard had been "Blah blah blabbity blah," until "homework" had caught her attention. And when that was explained to her she went ballistic, especially when Professor repeated his entire boring speech again. "All I need to 'succeed in life' is knowing how to punch!" she'd declared, punctuating that by swinging an uppercut through the air. "And I don't need no stinkin' homework either!"
Bubbles certainly had weighed in on Buttercup's side regarding the homework issue, while Blossom —to absolutely no one's surprise— seemed quite thrilled at the prospect.
Forging onwards he'd then explained that, possibly contrary to their expectations, they would not be attending Pokey Oaks Elementary School. Now that had caught all their attentions, and for a few moments it was impossible to make out who had been saying what.
"We won't?" "Wha—?" "Huh?" "Where will be—" "Why not?" "Whoa! How come?"
"Girls! Girls!" Holding up his hands he implored them to stop. "Let me finish first, and if you still have any questions then ask me."
No, they wouldn't be going to Pokey Oaks Elementary School. It was understandable that they had assumed they would. It was only several blocks away from Pokey Oaks Kindergarten, located in the same community there. Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup had just always assumed they'd be attending Pokey Oaks Elementary School, but now it seems they had been mistaken. Instead of going there, they were enrolled with, and would be attending, Bryn Mawr, a private, all-girls school for preschool through grade twelve.
Once again there had been mixed and varied opinions. Blossom's eyes had lit up like twin suns. Bubbles had been sad at first; she'd miss seeing all her friends and, well, this was an all-girls school. And while she still thought most boys were icky she did have friends that were boys and —although she'd never, ever dare admit it to anyone, especially Buttercup!— well, she could, at times, foresee when boys might become more intriguing in the future as compared to the present. Buttercup hadn't cared one way or another about it being an all-girl school; she did, however, have qualms about how difficult and intense studies there would be. And based upon Blossom's squeal of delight she should be worried!
And then came the topic Utonium had most dreaded: school uniforms.
There was no mistaking Buttercup's expression. While all his girls could be stubborn at times, Buttercup had truly refined obstinacy to an art form of Biblical proportions. And right at this moment Utonium could very clearly see that Buttercup had established a line that no amount of coaxing or wheedling would get her to cross.
"Blossom. Bubbles." Both girls stopped their low yet excited chattering and turned to look at him. "I need to talk to Buttercup for a bit. In private," he added, just in case they missed the hint. Both their eyes rounded in that semi-gleeful expression of 'Somebody's in trouble, somebody's in trouble!'
"Now Bubbles," he added. "Don't mess up your uniform."
"Professor!" Bubbles replied, sounding offended. Then both of them glided out the door, closing it behind them. Utonium turned and faced Buttercup, who was still floating several feet away, arms folded across her chest in a defiant 'I'll die first!' stance. He opened his mouth then paused before closing it again. Crooking his forefinger he silently beckoned for Buttercup to come closer. Buttercup gave him a very wary look before drifting closer. Utonium motioned for her to lower a bit then whispered in her ear. Within moments her expression shifted from guarded, then stunned, and then finally unholy glee. Slowly floating over to the closed door she sank down just enough that she could grasp the doorknob. She looked at Professor, and when he nodded his head…
…She jerked the door open.
Blossom and Bubbles, ears tight against the door, fell forward and onto the floor, squeaking as they lost their balance. Sprawled in an untidy heap they peeked up, gulping as Professor sternly gazed down at them, arms folded across his chest. Both nervously giggled, embarrassed at being caught eavesdropping and uneasy at the expression on Professor's face.
"Blossom. Bubbles," Professor drawled in that 'someone's been naughty' tone they dreaded. "Would one of you like to explain what's going on?"
"Hehehe," Blossom nervously giggled again, untangling herself from her sister then standing up. "Ummm . . . well . . . you see—"
"Yes Blossom. I did see. Now the two of you go downstairs and wait until I call for you. And while you're waiting…"
Both had bolted towards the open doorway and freedom, hoping to avoid, well . . . any potential reprimand or penalty. Alas, fast as they were they weren't quite fast enough. Heads hanging, they mumbled, "Yes Professor?"
"While you're waiting, decide amongst yourselves how to split Buttercup's chores between you two . . . seeing as how you'll be doing her chores for the next two weeks."
"But Professor!" Blossom and Bubbles blurted, but seeing his expression they just swallowed and nodded. "Yes Professor," Blossom meekly murmured. "Come on Bubbles."
The two of them left, quietly closing the door behind them, hangdog expressions on them both. Now, Buttercup's expression?
At the moment she was half-grinning and half-astonished, pleased that —for once!— she wasn't the one being called on the carpet, as well as being dumbfounded at their punishment and at what that punishment had consisted of (although she could be excused for, unsurprisingly, being happy about not having to do chores for two weeks). But that changed the moment she turned, looked at Professor, and saw his face. Buttercup was not known for giving up without a fight, and would often pursue victory at almost any cost. She'd already taken a deep breath and had opened her mouth to renew her protests, but they died aborning at his expression. Deeply sighing, shoulders slumping, she felt her rebelliousness slowly trickle from her. It had been a difficult lesson to learn, and an even harder one to accept, but on the extremely rare occasions Professor looked like this he was no more going to cave in than Buttercup was. And when all was said and done…
…he was her Dad.
Bubbles was an expert at batting eyes and wheedling; Blossom could out-talk a philosopher. Both left her eating their dust when it came to getting their way. All Buttercup had going for her was persistent determination —which everyone else called stubbornness, or obstinacy, or mulishness . . . with, quite often, the addition of irresponsibility or childishness added to the mix.
Well, so be it.
Utonium softly sighed, paced over to the edge of their bed and sat down, then looked back up at his daughter. Buttercup's lips had thinned and narrowed, her brows were lowered, her body was tense and her arms were crossed in front of her. A cease-fire wasn't the same as surrendering, and she wasn't about to yield, let alone admit defeat. Not yet, anyway, no matter how inevitable that might be.
A look of suspicion flashed across her face when, after several longish-feeling seconds had passed, all he did was crook his finger again, beckoning her closer; then, once she had drifted closer, patted the top of his thigh. "Come. Sit," Professor softly murmured. Buttercup blinked, startled at the tone, more of a wistful request than a parental demand, then slowly, gently, perched atop his lap. And when Professor leaned down and tightly hugged her, Buttercup, almost against her will, found herself leaning into that hug.
Utonium had known that, out of all his girls, Buttercup was going to be the most problematical, and most difficult, of the three about the news. Quite possibly that's why he'd (unconsciously, of course) kept postponing today's talk: he'd known Buttercup was going to be upset —to put it mildly— about the future changes.
He'd known . . . but he just couldn't understand. He'd tried, goodness yes he'd tried. Utonium understood that, well, Buttercup was —and, again, putting it mildly— a tomboy. And in all honesty he'd never had a problem with that. There was no way he'd ever try forcing an artificial conformity on any of his girls. But Buttercup took 'nonconformity' to an extreme. She seemed determined to be the ultimate hoyden, and sometimes he wondered how much of that was natural to her, and how much of it was her making a statement to the world at large. Something along the lines of: "Take me or leave me. I don't care." Although it was perhaps more accurate to consider her viewing things as: "Her way, the highway . . . or a knuckle sandwich."
Actually, quite often he'd felt overwhelmed, out of his depth, when and where it came to his daughters. Back when he'd decided to create the perfect little girl, his objective had been to create the perfect little girl. Singular. Not plural. He certainly hadn't expected triplets, let alone ultra super powered triplets.
Nor had he truly envisaged, let alone recognized and realized, everything it meant to be a parent; a dad.
Had he known then what he knew now, he still would have created them; he'd have just taken several courses in the care and feeding of little girls beforehand, in preparation for the most amazing event in his life.
Having a set of triplets being five years old from the get-go had been both a help and a hindrance. It was nice to have skipped the diaper/teething/spit-up phases and jumping right to having them 'born' at an age where they could talk and communicate. But there were still times when he felt like a fish out of water.
Monsters in the closet, or under the bed.
Psychological and self-confidence insecurities.
And now this, with Buttercup. Utonium mentally sighed. Give him "Observed Behavior of Highly Inelastic Electron–Proton Scattering", "The Eightfold Way: A theory of strong interaction symmetry", "The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory," or "The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality," any day!
However, this time he'd fortunately anticipated this little confrontational conundrum with his daughter and had —like the brilliant scientist he was— done some research beforehand. He'd solicited advice on how to deal with his little anti-cute hoyden. He'd sought out, and had spoken with, both Ms. Keene and Mrs. Snyder, their next door neighbor and the mother of Robin, the girls' friend. Between Sharlene's suggestions and Ms. Keene's guidance Utonium had decided how best to approach this conflict with his daughter.
"M hmmt wnna wrr nnh oopd unfrm." Buttercup's muffled mumble against his chest was more felt than heard. Utonium gave Buttercup a gentle hug before easing her back a bit so he could look in her eyes. "I don't wanna wear no stupid uniform," Buttercup more clearly repeated.
"OK. Why not?"
Professor's calm reply took Buttercup a bit aback, but only for a moment. "Because."
"Professor! You gotta be kidding!" Buttercup blurted.
"No Buttercup," Professor quietly replied. "I'm not kidding. I'm pretty sure I do know what you mean by 'because'. But for something like this I don't want to be 'pretty sure'. I want, and need, to be absolutely positive I understand."
Buttercup took a deep breath before announcing, "Because I'm not a girly girl!"
Professor simply nodded. "I can understand that. And no, you aren't a 'girly girl'." Buttercup's eyes rounded in surprise at that. "You don't willingly choose to dress and behave in traditionally feminine styles, like wearing dresses, or blouses and skirts. And you don't like talking about relationships or other activities which are associated with the traditional gender role of girls. In fact, you're the perfect definition of a tomboy: you prefer wearing a less feminine style of dress, including the wearing of boys' clothes. And you certainly are more involved in physical activity than other girls. Well, except your sisters, of course."
"Well, that's why! Because I'm not no 'girly girl' and I don't wanna dress like one!"
Professor nodded. "Well, I can understand that," he repeated, carefully standing up, and cradling Buttercup atop one arm and against his chest. Buttercup looked rather astonished at that. "But I can assure you that you won't be looking 'girly girl'," he continued, placing a small, flat disk about the size of an old-fashioned compact disc on the floor before sitting back down with his daughter. "Now, this is 'girly girl'," he proclaimed.
Buttercup had no idea what Professor had done, but there was no mistaking what the result was: holographically projecting up, in perfect three-D, from the disc he'd placed on the floor…
She gasped in shock and loathing, shrinking back against Professor. Hovering just above the holographic projection disc was an extremely realistic figure of a girl. And not just any girl: it was unmistakably her!
But that wasn't what had repulsed her. No, that was left to what she was wearing.
'She' was standing there, dressed in the most nauseating, sickly-sweet, outfit Buttercup had ever seen. Huge rounded green eyes took it all in: the short-sleeved white blouse —with a peter pan collar no less!— paired with the plaid, pleated bib skirt that ended two inches above the knees. And if that wasn't hideous enough, completing the ensemble were white, lace-trimmed ankle socks and black, patent leather, t-strap shoes!
"Don't you agree?"
It took several seconds before Buttercup registered that Professor had said something. "Huh?"
"I'd asked if you agreed . . . that this was 'girly girl'," he amended.
"I'd kiss Mojo before I wore that!" she blurted, then felt her cheeks heat.
"I'll take that as a 'Yes', then. Very well . . . how about this?"
Buttercup let out a strangled gasp, recoiling in revulsion. She'd thought she'd seen the worst but oh she'd been oh-so-wrong! This time the skirt was pink —bubblegum pink, no less!— and patterned with brightly colored flowers, and to make matters worse, beneath that was a white, lace-trimmed, crinoline underskirt that belled the skirt outwards. But did it stop there? Alas, for Buttercup's sanity, it did not. Raven locks, normally brushed into a flip, were now daintily coiffured atop her head, the confection held in place by brightly-glittering, sequined barrettes. The hands were gloved, the fabric a brilliant white, the lace-trimmed cuffs buttoning at the wrists by a single large pearl fastener, a white, patent leather clutch purse held in one hand. The shoes were now white patent leather, while the ankle socks' lacy cuffs were threaded with thin, colorful ribbon, with delicate flower appliqués matching the skirt pattern embroidered at the outside of each ankle.
Utonium wasn't sure Bubbles would wear that one, and judging by Buttercup's horrified look, there wasn't a force powerful enough in the Universe that could make her wear that!
Before she could bolt Utonium continued his presentation.
"What's her job? Who is she?" he asked, pointing at the new hologram, this time of a young woman.
"Ummm . . . Cop. Well, police officer," Buttercup amended, feeling a bit off-balance at the sudden (seemingly) change of subject. It had been pretty easy to guess, considering that what she was wearing was a dead giveaway.
"And this one? Who is she?"
"She's a doctor," Buttercup answered, extremely puzzled. What was this all about?
Utonium continued the presentation, always asking, "And this one? Who is she?" with each new hologram.
"Chauffeur. Chef. Maid. Soldier. Pilot. Stude…"
Buttercup's voice abruptly cut off. There, before her, was yet another hologram. But this one was of her and, unlike the original two, in this one 'she' was wearing —yep; you guessed it— the school uniform.
Absolute fury bubbled up inside her. Buttercup felt the familiar inferno of rage swell and expand within her. He'd tricked her! Doggonnit! Professor had duped her, and then made a fool of her!
Utonium felt Buttercup tense up and stiffen as if bracing for combat, and forced himself to remain relaxed and calm. He didn't say a word, nor in any way indicate he'd sensed her intense, simmering anger. But when he felt her take a deep breath then, as she exhaled in a long, gusty sigh, felt her unwind, he found himself exhaling in relief as well.
His eyes flew open in startled surprise as he both felt and heard Buttercup sardonically chuckle. Gazing down his eyes met huge emerald ones gazing up at him. She still looked gloomy but—thank goodness!— no longer looked aggressive and combative. Instead she looked confused and puzzled. "Why?" she simply asked, although there was a wealth of meaning and emotion behind that simple word.
"Well, you do know I didn't just decide things on a whim, yes? That I have good, sound reasons for the new school and everything?" Utonium waited until Buttercup had nodded in affirmation before continuing. "Well, it wouldn't have made a difference whether you attended Pokey Oaks Elementary or Bryn Mawr —or any other elementary school for that matter. There were going to be certain things you girls were going to face."
Utonium shifted Buttercup a bit so they were more facing each other. "Do you remember your first day at Pokey Oaks?" Buttercup nodded. "And do you remember your second day there?" Buttercup's face clouded over; lowering her head she barely nodded.
"None of the other children had known you and your sisters were the Powerpuff Girls," he continued. "Heck, no one knew that back then. The other children, your classmates? All they had seen were some other kids, just like them. And you are just like them," he added. "Just with some extras added."
Buttercup snorted. "Yeah, just a few."
"But now? This year? There is no way you girls could attend any school with any degree of anonymity. Heck, I bet anywhere in the world we could go you'd be recognized. And, if not right away, then certainly after your first superhero deed. And as for Townsville?" He didn't even have to elaborate; Buttercup was already softly nodding.
"OK, so that was one thing I had to consider as your father. Others are the big differences between a kindergarten like Pokey Oaks and elementary schools. For instance, class time at Pokey Oaks was only three hours long; elementary school classes are from nine in the morning until two-thirty in the afternoon. And then there's class size: Pokey Oaks had one class and one teacher. Now, first grade at your new school? Well . . . well there are five individual, separate, classes, not one; which also means five teachers, too. And each class is about nineteen students. " He paused a moment then added, "You and your sisters will be three out of around ninety-five to a hundred first graders. And last year? The total number attending the whole school was six hundred and twenty six students."
Utonium paused for several seconds, giving Buttercup time to absorb things. At the moment she was looking quite dazed. "Six hundred?" she finally squeaked.
Nodding, Utonium added, "And twenty six." Ignoring the momentary glare he forged onwards. "And they won't all be your ages, either. The ones in first grade, yes. But the oldest will be between thirteen and fourteen; teenagers. It's hard enough fitting in for your girls as it is: envy or jealousy, adulation and hero worship. Why, we can't even go to the beach without being swarmed by your admirers!"
True dat, Buttercup thought.
"It'll be easier to be accepted as yourselves, rather than famous superheroes, if you show everyone you're attempting to fit in rather than stand out," Utonium finished. "Understand?"
There is a world of difference between grudging acceptance and enthusiastic embracing and, judging by his daughter's expression, Buttercup was barely leaning towards "grudging acceptance". Finally, with a really deep inhale followed by an equally-deep exhale Buttercup sighed, small shoulders sagging. "What's the matter?" Professor asked, sounding concerned.
Buttercup shrugged again. "Awww . . . nuthin'."
"Sure looks like something to me."
"Aw man!" Buttercup abruptly blurted, flinging her arms wide. "It's Blossom and Bubbles! They're gonna think I bailed! That I wimped out and caved in!"
Thank you Ms. Keene! Utonium thought as he gave his daughter a quick, tight hug, extremely grateful for her advice on how to handle this particular problem should it arise.
"Did you? Bail, I mean," he clarified. "Or did you think about what we'd talked about and made a mature decision?"
Mature? Her? Hah! Buttercup had to stifle a derisive snort. Boy, does he have the wrong girl! she thought . . . then blinked. Whoa! Wait a minute!
Checking from all angles in case that had been a trick question Buttercup, at last, slowly replied, "Ye-es. Umm . . . I mean, no Professor. No, I didn't bail. I didn't like it. I still don't like it." Deeply sighing she finished, "But, yeah . . . I understand better now."
"Great!" he exclaimed, pride obvious in his tone and expression. "Now, before I call your sisters back up, here's what I want you to do . . ."
"I wonder what's taking them so long."
"Hmm?" Bubbles murmured, turning this way and that as she admired her uniform. "Did you say something?
Rolling her eyes upwards Blossom sighed. First Bubbles had been all weepy at being caught eavesdropping; caught, then scolded, and then punished. Then she'd gotten all sulky and pouty as the two of them had divvied up Buttercup's chores between them. And now?
Now she was off in her own little world . . . again.
"I'd said," Blossom snippily emphasized, "Well, essentially it was a rhetorical question rather than an actual statement, since . . . ," she trailed off upon seeing Bubbles drifting back off again. "I wonder what's taking them so long," she repeated.
Cocking her head Bubbles listened a moment. "Well, I don't hear screaming, or anything being thrown around and broken. So I guess Professor is just wearing her down. I don't see what the big deal is though," she added, smoothing the sides of her skirt with her hands. "It's just clothes. And pretty ones at that."
Blossom rolled her eyes and sighed again. "That's just it Bubbles: pretty clothes."
"You think they're pretty, too?" Bubbles happily smiled as she did a practice spin in place.
"No. I mean yes. That is . . . argh!"
Bubbles softly frowned at her sister. "Well? Do you think they're pretty or not?"
"That's not the problem!" Blossom curtly blurted. Sometimes Bubbles could drive her to distraction! "It's not whether or not I think they're pretty or not."
"No Bubbles. It's whether or not Buttercup thinks they're pretty."
"But why would she care? She doesn't care about clothes."
Blossom pinched the bridge of her nose. "No, usually she doesn't. But that's because she almost always wears the same thing. But what she does care about is looking 'cute'."
"Oooooh!" Bubbles paused a moment in her pirouettes, eyes rounding. "Now I get it!"
Finally! Blossom thought.
"Girls." Both of them instantly looked up and towards the sound of Professor's voice. "You can come up now."
"Girls. You can come up now."
In a jiffy two heads peeked around the door jamb. "Yes Professor?" two voices chimed in unison, sounding and looking meek and lively curious.
Both of which changed moments later.
"snk" mmfh" "ggl" "ttrr" Their faces contorted as they struggled not to giggle. There, just across the room, with her back to them, stood Buttercup…
…a Buttercup in full school uniform 'regalia': from pom-pom topped beret to badge-emblazoned blazer all the way down to laced-up saddle shoes.
Muffled giggles turned into audible chuckles and snickers. And when their sister glanced over her shoulder at them and simply lifted an eyebrow, with a look of 'Ye-ess?' on her face, well…
Blossom and Bubbles dissolved into gales of laughter, howling with mirth. They held onto each other for support because otherwise their knees would have buckled and sent them to the floor. Tears streamed down their cheeks; their sides and tummies ached from laughing.
And just when they'd —somehow!— managed to start getting their laughter and glee under control, Buttercup picked that moment to walk over and stand next to Professor, arching her brow and giving them both a cool, serene expression that not even Mr. Spock could have bettered. Well, off they went again, guffawing, rolling with laughter.
Suddenly Blossom came to a shocked stop. Huh? Wait! What??
"You were right Buttercup," Professor said, sighing and shrugging his shoulders in defeat as he turned and faced her. "And I was wrong. I'd thought your sisters would be more mature than this. So, since you've proven to be more mature you've won the bet."
Bet? What bet?? Blossom thought.
Buttercup's face burst into a huge, elated grin. "Kewl!" she gleefully exclaimed. "Can we do it today? Please please please??"
"I don't see why not," Professor replied.
By now Bubbles, too, had stopped laughing and, along with Blossom, was simply standing there, befuddled and confused.
"Umm . . . ahh . . . Professor?"
"What are you and Buttercup talking about? What bet? And what is the 'it'?" Blossom asked, with Bubbles paying close attention. Then both their jaws dropped in shock, eyes huge and rounded, aghast at the answer.
"Oh. Well. That." Professor nonchalantly replied. "After I explained things your sister agreed that the uniforms weren't, as she put it, 'girly girly' after all, and decided to try hers on. While she was doing that she complained that you two," he continued, pointing at Blossom and Bubbles, "would laugh at her for maturely deciding that the uniforms were, in any case, just uniforms. Buttercup bet you would laugh; I bet you wouldn't. So, since Buttercup was right, and because she acted so sensibly . . . I'm letting her get her ears pierced."
Blossom and Bubbles were stunned and shocked, utterly speechless. Although that didn't last for long.
A second passed. Then two. Then three. But before the fourth second had passed…
Twin wails shrilled in the bedroom. Both Professor and Buttercup winced at the yowls of indignation, outrage and injustice painfully echoing off the walls.
"Huh!? — What? — I've wanted to have my ears pierced, like, forever! — You're kidding! — I'm way more mature than Buttercup! — She doesn't want it more than I do! — Whaaaa!"
But when all was said and done, what all their protests really boiled down to was:
Buttercup couldn't blame them at all. She'd been incredibly shocked —as well as absolutely delighted!— at her reward . . . even if that wasn't exactly what her sisters thought it was.
Professor folded his arms across his chest, waiting for the clamor to die down. "Well? Was it fair, or nice, to laugh at your sister?"
Blossom blinked, taken aback by the mild-mannered tone . . . and by the question itself. "We-ell . . .," she drawled, looking everywhere but at Buttercup.
Sniffling Bubbles rubbed tear-swollen eyes. "It wasn't fair to surprise us like this."
"Yeah!" Blossom chimed in. "I mean, what did you expect?"
"We were set up!" Bubbles dissembled.
It was obvious both of them were grasping at straws, looking for anything to get them out of their predicament.
"I see," Professor gave a little nod. "However, you still haven't answered my question."
There was no help for it: both of them deeply sighed, gazing down at the floor before chiming in unison, "No Professor."
Professor nodded again. "Now, why are you carrying on like this, squalling that this is unfair?"
Both heads snapped up as Blossom and Bubbles just stared at Professor. They were so dumbfounded by the question they were momentarily speechless. And before they could say a word…
"Besides, I never said I wouldn't let the two of you get your ears pierced as well, now, did I?"
OK, now both jaws dropped open. "I can? — You mean it? — We can? — Really? — No foolin'?"
Professor chuckled as both of them started jumping up and down in excitement, jubilant cheers instead of unhappy wails painfully echoing.
"But Buttercup gets hers first," Professor informed. "And at the end of two weeks you'll get yours."
Between Sharlene's and Ms. Keene's advice this went a lot smoother than anything he could have predicted. Buttercup was elated at being first at something and being special —even if that would only be for two weeks— while Blossom and Bubbles were just as delighted. In fact, they were so enthusiastic and excited about having their ears pierced…
…that neither of her sisters ever once thought, considered, or teased Buttercup about bailing or caving in!
As it turned out, Buttercup didn't have her ears pierced that day, although it certainly hadn't been for lack of trying. The penultimate stanza "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" (as Blossom could — and would— smugly quote) could very easily have been the Utonium household official motto (although Buttercup and Bubbles decided their version, "The best plans of Puffs and Professor usually get messed up," was better), and that day had been no different.
They'd excitedly chattered —even Bubbles and Blossom— the entire way to Eclaire's, the local fashion trend and accessories store. This was yet another facet of fatherhood that Utonium had been ill-prepared for: little girl clothes, fashions and accessories shopping. Thankfully, for the most part they'd been happily comfortable with their usual 'birth' clothes (and interrelated colors), but it had only taken a couple of slumber parties for their eyes to have been opened and their horizons expanded.
Although her fashion interests —such as they were— lay more heavily towards Goth (no surprise there) and, oddly enough, emo.
Once there they had the usual encounters with fans, especially other kids. Utonium had actually devised a formula to predict the degree of enthusiasm they could expect when traveling: 4 pi EH divided by 4 pi r-squared, with E being enthusiasm and H being home, with that solution then being inversed. That gave a general estimate because, in order to be absolutely accurate, you also had to factor in the number of girls —one, two or all three— along with what season it was, what time of day it was, what type of weather it was…
Well, Blossom understood the formula.
Now, what all three girls did easily understand was that the further they traveled from home the more excited people (usually) were to see them, and the more likely they were seen as "The Powerpuff Girls". And that day had been no exception. In their own immediate neighborhood (and at Pokey Oaks Kindergarten) they were simply Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. A bit further away and they were Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup: The Powerpuff Girls. And even further and they were The Powerpuff girls: Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup.
They'd barely entered the store when the hubbub began. Within moments every girl there (and no few boys, too) swarmed about them, their excited squeals sounding almost as bad as nails down a chalkboard. The clerks, instead of being upset, were actually quite pleased . . . especially as every poster, tee-shirt, or paraphernalia that were in any way Powerpuff-related were swept off the shelves and racks within seconds. Long-suffering parents simply rolled their eyes, deeply sighed . . . and opened up wallets and purses. Once paid for the kids held them out to be autographed, which all three did, of course, Bubbles preening under the attention while Buttercup was more apathetic about the whole breathless adoration and idolization thing.
Meanwhile, while the entire hullabaloo had been escalating Utonium had worked his way to the counter and announced himself to one of the harried clerks there. He'd already wisely informed Eclaire's of the impending visit (which might have explained why all their Powerpuff items had been on display) and so they were prepared —or as prepared as any local store could be, that is— for the girls' arrival.
Once the store was swept clean of anything Powerpuff-related the chaos eased quite a bit, and finally his daughters could look over the display of starter earrings. Buttercup quickly chose the 3mm crystal emerald ones, while Blossom and Bubbles dithered more over their selections. They finally selected the same type —crystal daisy— but while Blossom's was ruby Bubbles' was sapphire.
Although neither Blossom nor Bubbles were getting theirs pierced right then they both trailed after their sister, animated and curious about the proceedings. After all, in two weeks it would be their turn!
However, once again, the best plans of Puffs and Professor got messed up.
"I'm sorry Professor Utonium," the piercing specialist uncomfortably said, "but I've tried it six times now, and the needle has snapped each time. I'm really sorry Buttercup," she apologized. Turning to face her, she unflinchingly met Buttercup's truly ferocious scowl and glare as she sat in the chair, both arms tightly folded over her chest. "I really am," she softly said, empathetically meeting the ire and bitterness glittering back at her. "If you want I'll keep trying until I run out of needles."
Several long, nerve-wracking seconds passed in fulminating silence, and then suddenly Buttercup burst. "Aw man!" she explosively blurted, jerking forward and flinging her arms out wide. "This stinks! What a rip off! I always get gypped! I never get nuthin' good just for myself!" she angrily complained before visibly deflating. "It's just not fair," she sullenly murmured,
"I'm really sorry Buttercup," Bubbles kindly said to her sister. "I know how disappointed you must feel."
"Oh, stuff it! Just stuff it!" Buttercup flared back up. "Just how would you know how I feel?"
Bubbles rocked back, visibly startled, eyes wide and bewildered. Huge baby blue orbs shimmered and swam a moment, and then she started bawling, bursting into tears that flowed down her cheeks.
"Well, we've been looking forward to having ours pierced, too, you know!" Blossom scolded, glaring at her sister. "And if they can't pierce yours then they can't pierce ours either!"
Buttercup blinked, taken aback in mid-tirade, and then looked chagrined. "Oh. Well . . . yeah. Guess that's true."
"Now, let's see," Blossom thought out loud, pacing back and forth while tapping her chin with the tip of a forefinger. "We've always been bullet-proof—,"
"Uh-huh," Bubbles interrupted, still sniffling. "But it still smarts!"
"I know that!" Blossom said with a sigh, pausing a moment in her pacing. "Just let me finish, alright? Sheesh!"
Bubbles and Buttercup exchanged glances, gazing at each other for a moment before both of them rolled their eyes upwards.
"OK. Now, where was I? Oh, right. OK, we've always been bullet-proof. And monster teeth-and-bite proof," Blossom returned to her pensive pacing.
"Mojo's ray guns and lasers don't work on us either," Buttercup added.
"But they sure sting like heck!" Bubbles blurted, and then ducked her head as her sisters gave her 'the look'. "Oops," she sheepishly murmured.
"Actually Buttercup," Blossom clarified, "his stuff does sort of work on us. Well, sometimes, that is. He is Mojo, after all." All three girls giggled a bit, eyes twinkling. "Seriously though," Blossom returned to practicality, "although we're pretty invulnerable, and virtually indestructible, we can —and do— feel things." Bubbles and Buttercup nodded.
Usually Blossom's preachy intellectual sermons drove Buttercup crazy, but this time she was paying close attention. After all, she did have a vested interest in a solution!
"And things can effect us: like Sedusa's hair gel," her sisters winced at the memory of that gelatinous glop, "and Mojo's glue trap—,"
"That was icky!" Bubbles blurted again. "Well, it was!" she asserted, standing her ground.
"But some things . . . well . . . we aren't, well . . . proof proof," Buttercup haltingly stated, nibbling lower lip, deep in thought.
Her sisters looked curiously at her. Buttercup, after all, generally didn't think before acting. That wasn't a slur, or a dig at their sister; it was simply the plain and simple truth.
"Well, think about it," she continued, looking back and forth between the two. "Our nails keep growing, but we're able to trim and file them. Our hair keeps growing, but we can cut that, too. But we've never broken nails when fighting. Haven't had our hair destroyed, neither. Messed up, frizzed all to heck by fire or explosions, and, umm . . . bad hair styling," Buttercup gamely ignored the sudden glare from Blossom. "But not destroyed."
Blossom grew thoughtful again. "Actually, that's true," she pondered. "It's as if something can effect us when we consciously choose to be effected. Hmmm…,"
"Well?" Buttercup impatiently asked after several seconds had passed in silence.
"I wonder if, say, we tried focusing our laser vision to make the hole?"
"Ooo! Great idea!" Bubbles cried out.
"Bubbles! NO!!" her sisters cried out.
Bubbles squinted, aiming her laser vision at Buttercup's head —well, her earlobe to be precise. Instantly Buttercup's head was concealed by a coruscating fireball as the twin beams struck. Professor Utonium and the piercing specialist both yelped, flinching back in alarm while Blossom was frozen, arm futility extended towards Bubbles.
Moments later an enormous ball of smoke roiled upwards, spreading across the ceiling. Buttercup's hair was crisped, standing up and out as if she'd been electric shocked while it was wet Her face was entirely coated in soot, so when she finally opened her eyes they starkly stood out against the blackness. Professor Utonium's and the piercing specialist's faces were streaked and smudged but otherwise they'd escaped anything worse.
The room was dead silent. Buttercup slowly reached up and explored her earlobe with her fingers. Deeply sighing she lowered her hand. "I guess this means I'm not getting my ears pierced today?"
Buttercup lopsidedly grinned as the entire room erupted into laughter.
As it turned out, Buttercup had been right: she had gone home that day without pierced ears.
But Utonium was determined to discover, or invent, a solution. For several days he and Blossom were buried down in his laboratory, deep in esoteric discussions and muttering cryptic formulas, until…
"Ummm," Buttercup faltered as she settled into the sturdy, padded chair. She nervously licked her lips as Professor started securing the various buckles and straps. "This is gonna work. Right?" she asked, huge eyes anxiously darting back and forth between Professor and Blossom . . . who was also wearing a lab coat and safety goggles.
"Of course it is Buttercup," Professor reassured. "Blossom and I have worked all the bugs out, and it works perfectly."
"Well, at least works perfectly in all the simulations, anyway," Blossom clarified.
"What!?" Buttercup yelped as Professor, having finished strapping her body utterly immobile, now began securing her head motionless. "Simulations?? You mean it's never actually been tested?"
"Of course not, silly!" Blossom admonished. "You're supposed to get yours pierced before Bubbles and I do, so we couldn't try this on either of us," she explained as she rolled a wheeled stand over, stopping directly in front of Buttercup. "Now just relax," she scolded as she and Professor very carefully positioned, then aimed, the two mirrors affixed to the stand.
Well, considering she was laced up into the chair like a spider-wrapped fly, relaxing wasn't the easiest of things to do. Then again, no stinking leather or steel could hold her down if she didn't choose to stay. Besides, she trusted Professor; trusted him with her very life, in fact.
Professor carefully made a mark with a fine-tipped permanent marker on each lobe, then wet a cotton swab with some nasty-looking red fluid from a flask. Very carefully he coated both the front and back of each earlobe with the liquid. It was very hard to stay still after that; something about that stuff made her earlobes feel, well . . . funny. And not a 'hah-hah!' funny either.
"OK Buttercup," Professor said as he slipped his safety goggles on. "Look at the mirrors. See the floating crosshair? Good! Now adjust that crosshair by moving your eyes around. Focus very intently on your right earlobe and position the crosshair center on the little black dot on the lobe. Then, once you have . . . give a really quick laser shot."
Moving her eyes back and forth caused the crosshair in the HUD to move in synch. Huh, Buttercup thought. Just like a video game. It didn't take long at all for her to center the crosshair on the dot. Well girl, here goes nothing!
There was a little audible pop as the twin beams, now focused to a pinpoint by the mirrors, vaporized a tiny hole right through the lobe. A tiny tendril of smoke curled up from the spot. Without being told Buttercup immediately targeted the other, punching a pinhole through that one, too.
"What do you know!" Professor exclaimed as he removed his goggles. "It worked! It actually worked!"
"What!?" Buttercup yelped. "You told me it would work!! You mean you didn't know for sure?"
"Now, now Buttercup," Blossom soothed as she daubed some Chemical X to the front and backs of each lobe. "What matters is that it did work, and your ears are pierced."
"They are? Kewl! Lemmee outta this chair so I can see!"
A few minutes later and Buttercup was admiring the tiny glittering emeralds adorning each lobe. "It did work!" she hugely grinned.
It had, indeed, worked. And at the end of their two-week punishments both Blossom and Bubbles were soon sporting their own.
But now they were facing the end of summer vacation and the start of a brand-new school year at a brand-new school. Each of the three viewed that with differing degrees of enthusiasm or ambivalence, but the one thing all three of them were in total agreement about was enjoying their last two weeks of summer vacation freedom.
Alas, neither the criminals of Townsville nor the monsters cared a whit about their freedom or fun. In fact, those last two weeks seemed more chock full of crime-fighting and monster bashing than had all the rest of summer. All too soon, it seemed, and the first day of first grade was there.
Professor dropped them off in front of Bryn Mawr's entrance, telling them not to worry and that he'd be there to pick them up after school. And then he was gone, leaving the three of them standing there on the sidewalk, facing the open gates leading to the front courtyard. There was already an orderly throng of chattering girls there, the smallest (and thus probably the youngest) looking apprehensive —if not outright anxious and distressed— while the tallest (and most likely the eldest) looked more bored at the proceedings than anything else.
As they approached the gates they saw that a teacher was standing there with a clipboard in her hand. She asked them their names, made tic marks on the attendance sheets, and then pointed to their grade and class with the tip of her pen. They headed that way, and were about halfway there when the formerly orderly throng disintegrated into a chaotic, disorganized mob. Within seconds the girls found themselves the center of a teeming horde of girls.
But not all the girls. And the aloof ones weren't looking at all thrilled.
Buttercup remembered the talk Professor had had with her, when he'd explained about being accepted and fitting in; that it would be easier to be accepted as themselves rather than famous superheroes if they showed everyone they were just trying to fit in and not acting like snooty, superior celebrities. And one glance over at the standoffish older girls showed her the wisdom of his advice.
Although Buttercup, being Buttercup, felt that a good butt-whooping or three would be just as effective . . . and a lot easier and a whole lot more fun!
It took significantly longer than usual to get everyone sorted out, the first-graders more than the others. Especially since there were five first-grade classes, which meant one of them was on cloud nine while the remaining four were crushed. There wasn't much that could be done about that, but the girls did try and reassure the other four classes —well, actually, the entire school. Needless to say it was an extremely exhausting morning for everyone.
And it was about to get even more interesting.
"Boy, Professor wasn't kidding was he?" Buttercup very carefully whispered to Bubbles. Bubbles gave a tiny nod in reply, not wanting unwanted teacher-attention drawn to herself.
Unlike her sister, who'd already been scolded several times.
But Buttercup was certainly correct: Professor hadn't been kidding about how different first grade would be when compared to kindergarten. Everything was so much more formal, more regimented. Not iron-fisted and stringent, just very neatly organized and by-the-book. For instance, at Pokey Oaks they'd pretty much sat willy-nilly. Oh, they had had assigned seating, but more often than not they were all over the room. But here they each had a specific, assigned desk. And that's where they sat . . . and stayed. The only breaks they would have would be lunch and recess!
Well, those and bathroom breaks that is.
Except they didn't call them bathrooms here. For some reason they were called lavatories instead of bathrooms. Blossom had been severely crestfallen during their introductory tour; she'd misheard and had thought they were being shown where the laboratory was located.
They also had actual textbooks. Bubbles had had to struggle not to burst into giggles at Buttercup's comical look of dismay when those were issued and passed out. The textbooks, along with all their other supplies, were either stored in a compartment under the seat, or underneath the desktop, which could be lifted up like a lid.
Other than the occasional bobble everything had been moving smoothly along . . . until Blossom had raised her hand and had asked the question each of them had been wondering about…
"Ummm . . . Mrs. Buchanan? Where is the Hot Line?"
"Hot line?" Mrs. Edna Buchanan, their teacher, quizzically repeated. "What do you mean by 'hot line'?"
Blossom's jaw wasn't the only one that dropped; hers was just the fastest. All three looked at each other, eyes wide and their expressions dumbfounded and aghast. "Umm . . . ahh . . .," Blossom stammered, baffled and floored. "You know: the Hot Line?" Mrs. Buchanan continued looking clueless. "How the Mayor contacts us when there's an emergency?"
A pewter brow arched as Mrs. Buchanan replied, "Why would the Mayor want to contact you at school?"
Blossom didn't know what her own face looked like but, based upon what she could see of her sisters' expressions out of the corner of her eyes…
"Ahhh . . . In case there's an emergency? Or a crime? Or a monster attack?"
"Miss Utonium —Blossom," she amended, since she did have all three Utonium girls in her class, "This is a classroom, not a fire station." Peering over the top of bejeweled, black, horn rim, half-moon spectacles Mrs. Buchanan fixed Blossom with her gaze. "You're here to learn, not 'hang out' until the fire bell rings."
"Huh!?" "Wait. What!?" "What you sayin'?" All three girls blurted out, absolutely shocked, momentarily dumbfounded beyond coherent speech.
Blossom exchanged looks with her sisters; since neither Bubbles nor Buttercup seemed ready —yet, anyway!— to chime in Blossom, in her usual role of leader, forged onwards. Yet she was careful how she did so, aware of the rest of the class paying close attention to what was transpiring. "I know we're here to learn, Mrs. Buchanan. We all are, and we all know that," she added, motioning towards her sisters. "But Townsville depends on us, too. We're not just 'hanging out' until something exciting comes along. If that were the case we could have just stayed at home. Professor could easily homeschool us after all.
"And it's not about wanting, or needing, glory or fame either," she continued. "Trust me! There have been times when I've wanted to cry because I'm so tired and I just want to sleep or play, but Townsville needs us again." Bubbles and Buttercup nodded in agreement.
"I'm sure Townsville will get along just fine without you during the school day," Mrs. Buchanan said with a note of finality in her voice. "Now, let us all take out our math worksheet for today and—yes Miss Utonium?" Mrs. Buchanan irritably asked.
"What if there's a fire?" Blossom asked.
"That's what the Townsville Fire Department is for. Now if we—"
"What if there's a bank robbery?" Blossom persisted.
"Really, Miss Utonium! That's what the Townsville Police Department is for. Now, not another word from you!"
"Well, let's try words from me, then," Buttercup lazily drawled, in a tone that made Bubbles tense. "What if a giant space crab was attacking?" she asked. "You know . . . just like the one eight months ago, that would have flattened this school if we had stayed at Pokey Oaks cuz it was during school hours?" she finished, huge emerald eyes dangerously glinting as she stared at her new teacher.
Mrs. Buchanan's lips tightened and thinned. Taking a pad of paper she rapidly scribbled, tore the sheet free then folded it several times. "Blossom Utonium. Buttercup Utonium," she decreed in a voice of doom, "You are to go to the principle's office, right now, and hand her this note."
Blossom's eyes grew round and huge; she rocked back in her seat, facing slightly paling. Buttercup just stood up, her desk squealing a bit along the floor as she did so. "Yeah. Sure. Whatever," she disdainfully snorted, marching up and taking the note. "Coming Blossom?
The rest of the class resembled statues —immobile and soundless— except for their eyes, which kept flickering back and forth.
Both Blossom and Buttercup glanced back at their sister but Bubbles seemed just as fixed and frozen as the rest of their classmates, and each, for their own reasons, chose not to impose upon their sister. Blossom got up from her desk, fuming so badly her jaw was tightly clenched, and joined Buttercup at the door.
They both resolutely marched down the hallway to the principle's office. Buttercup muttered something under her breath as they purposefully strode along. "What did you say?" Blossom asked.
"Ah," Buttercup replied, looking oddly sheepish. "I was just grousing is all." Glancing over at her sister Buttercup shrugged, "I'd just said that this is probably a record, even for me."
"Sssnnkk," Blossom's face contorted as she struggled to smother a giggle, but it was a lost cause. Blossom's gigglefit only broke up Buttercup, and so that was how Bubbles found her sisters: holding onto each other in the hallway, cracking each other up.
"What the heck is so funny!?" Bubbles blurted, which only set them off again.
Eventually they did get themselves under control. "What are you doing here?" Blossom asked. "Did you get sent to the principle's office too?"
Bubbles gave a tiny headshake in negation, her face turning a bit chalky.
"Then what happened?" Buttercup asked.
"I . . . I . . . I . . .,"
"Ye-ess?" Blossom coaxed.
"I couldn't let you go alone. Well, not alone alone, cuz you were together. With each other." Bubbles haltingly whispered. "I meant alone. Without me. We're sisters. And we're the Powerpuff Girls. You know?"
Before Blossom could react to Bubbles unusual courage regarding rule-breaking and getting into trouble Buttercup reached over and lightly (for her) punched Bubbles in the upper arm. "Yup! We know. Now, let's go give 'em heck!"
Eve Sandler, principle of Bryn Mawr for last eight years, and a teacher there for twenty-five, gently pinched the bridge of her long, convex nose before gazing back down at the three girls standing in front of her desk. During those thirty-three years she'd encountered, and had dealt with, innumerable disciplinary problems, but she had the uncanny feeling that these three would make or break her.
Folding her hands together Eve rested them atop her desk blotter. "I do believe this has set a record for the fastest principle's office visit in the history of this school. Is something funny Miss Utonium?" she arched a brow at Buttercup who had just strangled a snicker.
"Ah. No Ma'am," Buttercup replied. Considering how badly she was struggling not to burst out laughing Eve found it difficult to believe her!
Somehow or another Buttercup managed to smother her mirth and, together with her sisters, stood facing the principle across the broad expanse of her desk. Their expressions weren't defiant, Eve noticed, but neither were they contrite. They way they stood also spoke volumes: close enough together to express solidarity and co-championship, yet also independent. Nor did she miss the subtle alteration in their positioning: Bubbles and Buttercup shifting back just the slightest degree, placing Blossom foremost.
They waited. Eve waited. The silence stretched out and, after a while, Eve wasn't sure whether to admire their fortitude or disapprove their stubbornness. Taking a deep breath she finally broke the lull.
Picking the note back up, she perused the contents yet again before refolding it and placing it back atop the blotter. "Buttercup — Did you sass and backtalk Mrs. Buchanan?"
Buttercup instinctively flicked a quick glance at Blossom before answering. She started swelling in indignant, righteous wrath, but, totally shocking both her sisters and Ms. Sandler —who was quite aware of Buttercup's reputation— suddenly she simply exhaled, swallowed once, then answered. "Yup."
Eve blinked at the blunt response. After a few seconds passed in silence she realized there was going to be no additional elaboration so she prompted, "Why?"
"Because she was pigheaded. And wrong."
Eve blinked again then pinched the bridge of her nose a second time. She had a reputation for being stubborn as a bulldog, that cachet enhanced by a strong nose and square jaw which bestowed an obstinate, strong-willed look. But she was beginning to wonder if she'd finally met her match for mulishness.
Before she could go any further Blossom spoke up. "If I may, please?" she respectfully requested. When Eve nodded Blossom started speaking.
"Principle Sandler, we aren't trying to make, or cause, trouble. Honest. We knew a lot of things were going to be new and different; our dad had several long talks with us about that. And we really do want to fit in, and are willing to do anything to do so. Well, almost anything," she amended.
"Yeah. Almost anything," Buttercup growled sotto voce. "I sure as heck won't wear makeup just to fit in!"
"Not helping!" Blossom said out of the corner of her mouth, and just as quietly, to Buttercup,
"Oo! OO!" Bubbles, well . . . bubbled, dancing up and down on her toes. "I wouldn't mind wearing makeup!" she enthused. "I don't think Professor would let us, though," she mourned. "But I wouldn't want to have to dye my hair to fit in. Like, dye it red. I love being blonde! Umm . . . not that there's anything wrong about red," she babbled Blossom's direction in yet another mercurial mood change.
"Not helping!" Blossom hissed out of the other corner of her mouth, towards Bubbles.
"Oops! Sorry!" Bubbles apologized. "Do you have a headache Principle Sandler?" seeing the principle massaging her temples. "Would you like me to get you some aspirin? Tylenol? Advil?"
"No. No, but thank you Bubbles." She couldn't help exchanging a wry grin with Blossom, who seemed torn between embarrassment and exasperation. "Now, you were saying?" Eve prompted.
Blossom shot her sisters a warning look, then took a deep breath and continued. "We don't want to cause any trouble and we don't want special treatment. We really do want to fit in, Principle Sandler. But while we're willing to do almost anything to do so there's one thing we just won't compromise on and that's having a Hot Line. Townsville has to be able to reach us in an emergency."
At her sides both her sisters firmly nodded in unity.
Placing elbows on the desk Eve folded her hands together, resting her chin atop them, then gazed down at the three petitioners. "Are there other, ah . . . 'Hot Lines'?"
Blossom blinked, taken a bit aback by the apparent non sequitur. "Ah . . . Yes Principle Sandler. One is at Town Hall, in the Mayor's office. And the other is in our bedroom at home."
"Who makes the emergency calls?"
"The Mayor. Well, almost always anyway."
"Who decides what constitutes an emergency?"
Blossom couldn't help herself; she winced a moment before replying. "The Mayor."
An iron-grey brow lifted. "Is something the matter?" Eve asked.
"We-ell . . ." Blossom sighed. "Sometimes the Mayor has a, umm, well . . . he sometimes has different ideas of an emergency than we do." Bubbles and Buttercup both nodded.
"Especially at lunch-time," Buttercup griped under her breath.
"Ugh! Pickles!" Bubbles softly muttered, wrinkling her nose and making a face.
This wasn't going in quite the direction Blossom had intended, and the worst of it was she couldn't see any way of rechanneling it the direction she wanted. Well, not without making up reasons —that is, fibs and excuses— anyway.
"Are pickles worth disrupting your class?" Eve continued.
Poor Blossom! She felt herself floundering —something she wasn't at all used to feeling!— and unable to debate her case as sucessfully as she'd intended. "No."
"Are pickles worth interrupting your studies?"
"Is getting a cat down from a tree worth disrupting your class? Interrupting your studies?"
"No." Blossom felt her face tightening in frustration. Out of the corner of one eye she could see Bubbles, whose face was all upset, her eyes swimming, while out of the corner of the other she could see Buttercup, whose expression was dangerously fuming.
"Is changing a light bulb? Fixing someone's flat tire? Cleaning a litterbox? Fetching a remote? Because a person is, or people are, too lazy to do that for themselves?"
Blossom felt her thoughts come to a screeching, slithering turn. Huh!? Glancing to either side it seemed as if her sisters were as dumbfounded as she felt!
"Is rescuing someone from a burning building worth disrupting your class? Interrupting your studies?"
Blossom's eyes narrowed a moment. "Yes," she answered.
"Is saving robbery hostages worth disrupting your class? Interrupting your studies?"
"Is getting an accident victim quickly to a hospital worth disrupting your class? Interrupting your studies?"
"Are we going somewhere with this?" Buttercup growled, unable to contain herself any longer.
Wadding up the disciplinary note Eve tossed it into a wastebasket. "Actually, yes Buttercup, I am. And we are. It seems the crux of this matter is not whether you three will disrupt —or have the potential to disrupt— your class, and, in addition, whether you three will interrupt —or have the potential to interrupt— your studies for an emergency, as much as it is what constitutes an emergency. Would you agree Blossom?"
After carefully considering the somewhat involved question from all angles, just in case it was a trick, trap question, Blossom nodded. "Yes, Principle Sandler." She debated temporizing but, really, how often had she, or her sisters for that matter, grumbled about that very same thing? None of them minded, or regretted, dropping everything for a real emergency, but sheesh!! Some of the things they'd been called for had been ridiculous!
Eve scribbled a note to Edna, acknowledging that the Utonium triplets had seen her and were permitted back to class. "Very well then. I will see you three after school. For now return to your class," she said as she handed the note to Blossom and dismissed them.
"Well, that didn't turn out very well, did it?" Buttercup grumbled as they headed back to class.
"I . . . I don't know Buttercup," Blossom thoughtfully replied. "We didn't get the answer we wanted," she admitted, "or thought we wanted, at any rate. But she did listen to us."
"Was it just me," Bubbles hesitantly spoke, "or did that feel like some sort of test or exam?"
Buttercup groaned as if in deep pain. "Buttercup! What is it? Are you all right?" Blossom asked, alarmed and worried.
"It's not even lunch and we've already had a test??"
The return trip took quite a bit longer than the one to the principle's office had, but all three were grinning like loons and bouncy in their steps as they headed down the hallway to their classroom.
As it turned out Principle Sandler had listened to their worries and complaints. Her solution hadn't been anything like they'd expected, but even Buttercup admitted to there being a certain elegance to the accommodation.
There would be no Hot Line in the classroom. Period. That was not open to debate or compromise. Instead there would be a Hot Line installed in the administrative offices. Principle Sandler would answer all calls or, in her absence, the assistant principle or administrative assistant. If she, or they, determined it to be a true emergency, one that warranted calling upon the Powerpuff Girls, the alarm would be sounded.
And to facilitate said alarm sounding while, at the same time, mitigating potential distractions to their classmates or the rest of the school, they were each issued their own pagers.
Buttercup groused that, as long as they were being given pagers, why not go that extra mile and provide smart phones. She only groused the once, though, as having to spend all recess writing "I will be grateful for what I'm given," on the blackboard wasn't anywhere nearly as much fun as playing dodge ball.
There were, of course, still some growing pains waiting for them.
For instance, it only took their first emergency response (and it would have had to involve Mojo Jojo, who had cracked up into helpless, hysterical laughter the moment he saw Buttercup in her school uniform! Alas, but not before he'd already blasted both Blossom and Bubbles with a disintegron ray) to learn that their school uniforms were not as impervious to damage as their usual clothes. Even Principle Sandler had had to agree that having them leaving class in uniform but returning in their birthday suits was neither, ah . . . optimal nor preferred. So a small administrative office was assigned as a changing room (which Buttercup had immediately dubbed "The Puffcave") where they could keep spare uniforms along with their normal clothing.
There were also jealousies, both petty and major, that they had to learn to deal with. But as the girls were still held responsible for all classroom work and assignments, no matter what the emergency, and were never excused from homework or tests, for the most part those jealousies petered out.
And so, as the days, then weeks, inexorably passed things had gradually settled into a normal routine…
"Well *nuk* dat's innewesting! *nuk* Duh insibe *nuk* isn borned up a' all. *nuk* Hin fac', ib's beawwy *nuk* souwch'd."
Buttercup shook her head, banishing the cobwebs of the past and forcing herself back to the present. At the moment Blossom was intently scrutinizing the inside halves of her Hot Line pager, which she'd just broken in two by pounding on it with a rock. Unfortunately she'd also smashed her thumb while doing that —using tools to break things not at all something she was practiced doing— so talking while simultaneously sucking her throbbing thumb was garbling her speech.
Buttercup quite often found Blossom's fussy and overly analytical explanations tedious and boring . . . when they weren't outright confusing and completely beyond her understanding, that is! So listening to Blossom prattle on and on and on while also trying to make sense of her muddled words was wearing her patience thin. Past thin, in fact.
"BLOSSOM!" Even Bubbles jumped and squeaked at that unexpected bellow.
Throwing arms up in the air Buttercup growled, "For Pete's sake girl, stop sucking your thumb," she derisively smirked a bit at that, "You're hard enough to understand as it is."
Blossom glared at Buttercup as she popped the thumb in question out of her mouth. "Well, it hurts!"
"Stop being such a baby!" Buttercup taunted.
"I'm not being a baby!" Blossom fiercely scowled.
"Oh no?" Buttercup jeered. "Must have been someone else crying like one when she whacked her thumb."
"Hey! It hurt!" Blossom repeated. And it had, too. Actually there had been two things that had unexpectedly stunned, then shocked, and then finally frightened Blossom. Although she was no stranger to pain itself (after all, Mojo's lasers or ray gun blasts didn't exactly tickle) mashing her thumb had been painful to a degree she had never experienced before. And it wasn't quickly fading away like it almost always had before in the past. In fact, unless she was sadly mistaken, it was growing worse.
"Awww. Widdle baybee Bwossom has a boo-boo," Buttercup heckled.
"Well, at least I'm trying to figure things out. You could help too you know!"
"How the heck do you expect me to do that when I can't even understand what you're saying?"
Deeply sighing Blossom testily repeated, "I'd said it was interesting that the inside wasn't at all burned up, just barely scorched. So they didn't melt from the inside out —like they would have if it had been a short circuit— but from the outside in. So probably what happened is they—Well? Now what?" she irritably asked upon seeing Buttercup roll her eyes upwards.
"You just don't get it, do you Brainiac? Half the time when you try and explain something I don't understand half of what you say, and the other half of the time I don't understand anything you say!"
"Well, maybe if a certain someone had brains instead of muscle and bone between their ears they'd understand more!" Blossom yelled.
"Oh yeah? Well, maybe if a certain bossy know-it-all came down to Earth off her cloud of know-it-all-ness—"
"Oh yeah? Why you—"
"Back off girl, or else—"
By now the two of them were flushed with anger, eyes snapping and spitting sparks, facing each other so close that, leaned forward as they were, their noses almost touched. Their hands were fisted so tightly they were white, and the two of them were within a hairsbreadth of going at it hammer and tongs when Bubbles let out a piercing, alarmed squeal. They were so furious with each other even Bubbles' squawk didn't make them back down or away.
"What is it Bubbles?" Buttercup snarled, never taking her eyes off Blossom.
"Oh! Sorry! He just startled me is all."
It actually took several seconds for that to register. "He?" Blossom asked, turning her head and glancing over her shoulder back towards her sister.
"He? What 'he'?" Buttercup echoed.
"This he, silly!" Bubbles gushed. "Isn't he cute? He looks just like a really big, cute and fuzzy Gummi Bear caterpillar!"
Bubbles was hunkered down at the edge of their small clearing, gazing at the front part of what did appear exactly like she'd described: a really big, fuzzy gummi worm with stubby legs. Buttercup wouldn't go so far as to also call it cute but, then again, she wasn't Bubbles.
It wasn't much thicker in cross section than her tummy, although instead of being circular it had a flattened, cylindrical body cross-section: its body was wider than it was tall. Running down both sides were matched pairs of legs, just like a caterpillar, although comparing it to a centipede was more accurate. And while it wasn't translucent like real gummi candy its limber, flexible appearance was reminiscent of the rubbery-textured gelatin confection. Especially the stumpy looking legs!
Buttercup squinted, gazing at the . . . whatever-it-was . . . closely. It didn't seem to have any eyes, although what did she know? It did have two odd looking . . . antenna? Blossom would most likely know, but Buttercup wasn't about to stick another quarter in her slot! They looked pretty harmless, like longer, thinner, more flexible feet. And as for the body?
Buttercup could understand Bubbles' fascination: not only was her sister attracted to all sorts of animals to begin with, but this one looked like a plushie toy come to life: its body was covered in a velvety coat of lustrous deep blue dappled with gold speckles. But, even so, for whatever reason Buttercup felt an inexplicable foreboding begin growing.
"Ummm . . . Bubbles?" Buttercup rasped, pushing her way past an indignant Blossom. "I know you think it—"
"He!" Bubbles corrected. "He's a he!"
"He. She. It. Whatever," Buttercup grumbled. "So it —he— looks cute and harmless. But I don't know if he is, or even what he is. Do you?"
Rising upright Bubbles turned and faced Buttercup. "No. I don't. Not yet, anyway. I was trying," she frowned at her sister, "to ask him, but I haven't figured out just how to talk to him just—"
Both Blossom and Buttercup screamed out a warning. Behind Bubbles the . . . thing . . . had just waved its antenna for a moment before rising up the front part of its body, and it was only then that they saw, hidden beneath its head and underneath each antenna, what looked like nozzles or spouts being extruded. Instantly each of them flew to Bubbles' aid…
…except they'd forgotten they couldn't fly.
Bubbles was extremely confused, puzzled by her sisters' behavior. What in the world? One second they'd all been talking, then the next they'd screamed at her, and now they'd just fallen to the ground in a heap! What had gotten into them?
'Look out?' Look out at what? Bubbles' eyes abruptly grew very wide. Spinning around she stared at her new friend…
Before she could react in any other way she was hit with two thick ropes of slime that was squirted from the now-visible spouts. And they weren't just slimy; they were thick and dense. Knocked off-balance by the unexpected impact and weight Bubbles fell down. And, once down, she discovered they were also sticky. Very sticky, in fact.
No sooner had she realized just how helplessly immobilized she'd become Bubbles screamed in terror, now able to see the stiletto-thin, curved fangs folded and hidden beneath the head that had now reared up higher…
…and see, as well, the toothlet-studded, circular maw already gaped and drooling.