Changes. Life's full of them. In nature, the most famous
example of change is the transformation of a caterpillar into a
butterfly. One minute, there's this slow moving, gross-looking
hairy worm inching its way across a tree branch, and the
next-PRESTO! You've got this airy, delicate butterfly which gets
out of its cocoon, takes one look at it's old branch, and flies
off, never to return.
While people don't change in that big a way, they go
through a lot of big changes too. Like the first day of school.
Or meeting your first friend. Even going to the dentist by
yourself for the first time can be a big change. One of the
biggest changes in anybody's life, though, is the day they first
leave home for college. The safety of the warm, comfy, family
cocoon is cast off, left behind for the wide, wide world of
whatever's out there. It's a weird, scary change.
Like butterflies, some people never come back after that,
choosing to stay out there, somewhere in the world, for the rest
of their life. But a lotta people do come back, even if just to
And sometimes, coming home can be way weirder than leaving
in the first place. It makes you look at old, familiar things in
new, unexpected ways. And it makes you realize that no matter how
much you've changed, the people you used to know have changed
too. Sometimes, you have to get to know them all over again.
And that can be the scariest change of all.
July 14th, 1995 9:00 AM
Silverware clicking against cheap china. Soft slurps of
coffee. Idle murmurs of conversation. Breakfast was a quiet, calm
affair as usual at Evanston's only MacDrekky's fast food
restaurant, punctuated only by the odd ring of a payphone in the
rear of the eatery. The few cashiers on duty mindlessly stared at
cracks in the tiled ceiling as patrons meticulously chewed their
Nobody noticed the two teenagers as they entered.
They were definitely a mismatched couple. He, a tall
brawny, muscular sort, dressed in leather and denim, she, a slim,
petite girl in hideously mismatched clothes that somehow managed
to exude an underlying sense of elegant style. Nobody could have
ever predicted that their relationship would have taken off as
quickly as it had, or that it would have lasted as long as it
did. But it was love, alright. Anyone could see that.
"Buy me a Big Drek, or I'll beat your head in."
"Yes, dear," Clifford Spleenhurfer said meekly, shrinking
from the acid gaze of his girlfriend as he sat down beside her at
Presently, however, his eyes began to wander back to her
"What is it?" the girl asked, annoyed at his stare.
Clifford gulped and said nothing. He hated it when she got
like this. It scared him. Fright had a way of dampening his
"Well?!" the girl asked irately. "What's the 411?!"
"Umm--" Clifford began slowly, his voice trembling in fear.
"Spit it out!" the girl said, her oddly shaped earrings
rocking back and forth as she moved her head, "A piece of me is
dying every few seconds, you know. Blood cells only last 90 days.
My fingernails and hair are already dead. By the time you finish
your sentence, I'll probably be nothin' but a pile of dust in
"Umm," Clifford continued, pointing at her face with a
trembling finger, "your eye fell out again."
"Ugh," the girl said. "It's always doing that. Now I have
to pull out the other one." Raising a hand to her head, she
briefly paused to brush aside her bangs, plucking at her one blue
eye until she was able to peel off a thin layer of colored
With a flick of her thumb, the girl tossed the plastic lens
into Clifford's Sani-Shake.
"Why do you even wear those, Eve?" Clifford asked tiredly.
Eve Biderberg, the most popular girl at Thomas Tupper
Senior High School, Editor-in-Chief of the school paper, and
inherently better half of Clifford Spleenhurfer, scowled at the
idiocy of her boyfriend's question.
"Because," Eve replied slowly, a hint of anger in her
voice. "It's a requirement. You can't be a blonde with brown
eyes. That would be gross." She frowned and donned some
"But your hair isn't even really blonde-" Clifford said,
"Yes it is!" Eve hissed. "It's always been blonde!" She
smacked him on the side of the head. "Understand!?" she demanded,
her voice dripping menace. "And don't call me `Eve' in public!
"Hi, Claire, Hi, Clifford!" a pack of girls said, passing
by the table.
Eve smiled to them. "Hey, guys! What's the 411?"
"We were just thinking," one of the girls said rapidly,
detaching from the pack, "there's this new fad at school.
Everybody's wearing their clothes inside out. We were gonna do it
"Now," Eve said in a friendly, yet strangely commanding
voice, "always remember to be yourself. Live your own life. Don't
just blindly imitate other people."
"You're right!" the girl said, returning to the fold.
"She's so cool!" the other girls whispered to each other,
giggling and moving off.
Clifford sighed. "I remember when she would get that
reaction," he said, staring into Eve's face. For a moment, her
features seemed to shift slightly, and someone else, looking
similar, but different, stared back at him.
"Ugh," Eve exhaled. "Thinking about her again, are you?"
"I love *you*" Clifford said quickly, suddenly slightly
afraid for his life. "I love the way you smile, the way you
look-you are so beautiful--" he said, starting to break into
"--but I look just like her," Eve interjected brusqely. "So
when you say you love my appearance, you mean you love her
"Yes, uhh. no." Clifford said, confused.
"Don't think, dear," Eve said soothingly, her mood swinging
completely. Any man other than Clifford would have been instantly
suspicious. As it was, Clifford was too busy contemplating the
subtle intricacies of Pie.
"That's never been your strong suit. Your other talents more than
make up for your lack of brain cells."
"Yup," Clifford said proudly. "But I'm not doin' that stuff
anymore. It's too gross and disgusting. Every time, it makes me
"Eh?" Eve sat bolt upright in her chair, offended. "How can
you say that? Every time, you swore it was the most wonderful
thing you ever experienced!"
Clifford shrugged. "That was just in the heat of the
Eve growled. "I go out of my way to satisfy your hideous
appetites, and you have the gall to trivialize it? I gave you
everything! I showed you things, techniques I'd never shared with
"Don't care," Clifford said, stuffing his face with a
glazed MacDrekky's Dairy Doughnut O' Doom. He liked Dairy
Doughnuts o' Doom. They were soft and squidgy, and melted on his
tongue. Sugar gave him strength. Strength made him strong.
"I'm not doin' it with you anymore," he continued
defiantly. "No more dumpin' roaches into dinner plates just to
scam free meals from restaurants."
"Gah!" Eve clenched her hands into fists, her knuckles
going pale. Looking around to make sure none of the staff was
paying attention, she leaned forward, speaking in a rapid, raspy
whisper. "You're the best I've ever seen at the dead roach scam!
Nobody does it better than you! The look of cluelessness when you
sit down to order, pretending to mangle the French meal names--"
She paused. "--well, that's just your native ignorance. But then
the look of righteous shock and indignation-"
Clifford nodded and looked at Eve angrily. "Is that a
palmetto bug in my souffle?" he asked her with mock gravity.
Eve cooed in delight. "Precisely. And you're so big and
strong, those pasty-faced waiters don't dare question you. You're
perfect! You can't quit! I've grown used to fine cuisine!"
Clifford frowned. "No way. I've changed. I got ethics now.
I'm goin' straight."
Eve's eyes narrowed, and she leaned forward in a fluid,
serpentine motion. "There was a time when you were all too
willing to forget your ethics." She held out a sandwich, waving
it slowly in front of her vassal-err, boyfriend's nose.
Clifford shook his head, eyes following the sandwich
automatically. He shuddered, and a huge drop of sweat trickled
down the back of his head. As he spoke, he desperately tried to
ignore the sandwich. "Yeah, well, the days of me forgettin' are
over, and the days of me rememberin' have just begun. I'm
Clifford Spleenhurfer, Thomas Tupper High's first Super Super
Super Senior, not some insane human eating machine!"
Clifford closed his eyes and turned his head away from the
sandwich. "My stomach's not the boss of me! Not anymore!"
Eve snickered, still holding up the sandwich. "When you go
on like this, you know what you sound like?"
Clifford shrugged, eyes still closed. "What? What do I
"You sound like a freshman. Whine, Whine Whine Whine Whine.
Not like the manly super senior that I fell in love with. The
Clifford who stood up for his rights! Who didn't even let the ex-
girl of his dreams get in his way!"
Clifford shuddered. He flashed back to an incident that had
happened some five months ago, just before Clarissa had gone off
to college. Boy, he recalled. That architect had sure liked his
The day had been a particularly hot one. Chicago had been
caught in the grip of a particularly vicious heat wave, with the
mercury hovering above 102 for the sixth day in a row. The
Darlings had responded by retreating into the cool, air
conditioned sanctuary of their comfortable two-story home,
basking in cool processed air. For two days, life had been
perfect. Then, on the third day, the air conditioner had simply
decided to stop. The house was transformed into a hot box that
would have sent Southern prison wardens packing in terror.
Each member of the family had adapted in their own unique
way. The kids had retreated to their rooms and ceased
hostilities, finding heat more oppressive than the presence of
any sibling. Janet had taken up hydroponic gardening, ostensibly
to facilitate the growth of pure organic foods, but in reality to
generate an excuse for piping large quantities of cooling water
into the house's basement, where she had set up a pool. And
Marshall simply went mad.
Marshall Darling was never very good at being cooped up.
True, he spent most of his time in his study, or sitting on the
couch watching TV, but those were activities he enjoyed by
choice. Sitting around in the house all day because of the heat
wave somehow made these common activities seem like a prison
sentence imposed by an all-powerful captor. So, he did the only
thing a child of the sixties could under the circumstances. He
rebelled-- against the hideous hand of boredom. His weapon of
choice? Home repair. He chose to upgrade all the appliances in
the house. Again. And he had decided, quite logically, to start
in the kitchen. It had always been far too insecure.
"What's that for, dad?" Clarissa asked, pushing some sweat-
soaked hair from the front of her face. She watched incredulously
as her father leaned in front of the refrigerator, trying
desperately to stick some kind of funky computer lock on the
"Well, Sport," Marshall said, standing upright and looking
at his daughter, eyes full of enthusiasm, "That kid you're always
hanging out with-"
"-his name is Clifford, dad." Clarissa said reflexively.
"-whatever. Well, as you know, he's always coming over and
eating food. Our food. MY food." Marshall winced. "The food that
I need to keep myself going. To keep my brain in prime shape, so
that I can design new and innovative architectural plans- to
boldly imagine buildings no architect has imagined before."
Marshall's eyes glazed over. "Why, I remember the time I
made the first model for a building. The `Gerkins a go-go'. Do
you remember, sport? I always thought the thing was groovy. So
groovy, in fact, that I even thought it would get sold at
auction. Why, I think I saw it on eBay."
Clarissa sighed. Her dad's 8-track mind was slowly
beginning to take a one-track cruise down memory lane, and pretty
soon the engine would be stalling out. She had to detour him
ASAP. "Dad!" she snapped, getting no reply. "Dad!" she insisted.
"What, Sport?" Marshall asked, snapped out of his reverie.
"The thing on the fridge?" Clarissa waved at the
contraption on the refrigerator, which was studded with an array
of blinking lights and flashing LEDs. If the year was 1966, it
would have looked right at home on the bridge of the starship
"Oh," Marshall said after a moment. "I saw plans for this
thing in an issue of Popular Home Gadgets. It's a `Magnetomatic
9000.'" He smiled in satisfaction.
"What does that mean?" Clarissa pressed. Sometimes talking
to her father was like trying to converse with a dyslexic mime.
"Oh," Marshall said again. "It keeps people out of the
"No way," Clarissa said incredulously. She walked over to
the fridge and tugged at the handle. She was confident her dad's
natural knack for mangling hardware would result in a quick
victory against the Megalomaniac 9000, or whatever it was called.
"WARNING," the Magnetomatic chirped. "UNAUTHORIZED SNACKER
DETECTED. HANDPRINT REQUIRED."
Clarissa frowned. "Get real." She tugged at the handle
harder. A small electric shock jolted her, and she reflexively
let go. Well, that was Pavlovian, she thought.
"Dad," she said, stunned. "You've made a fridge lock that
shocks your family?" Her respect for him grew a notch.
"No," Marshall said. "I'll add your palm prints to the
database. It's here to shock just one person."
"Clifford," Clarissa realized slowly. This could get
"That kid," Marshall confirmed.
Clarissa shrugged. It was true that Clifford tended to eat
the Darlings out of house and home. Of all the people she'd want
to be locked in a bomb shelter with, Clifford was the last. His
stomach was like a transcendentally dimensional black hole. He
could make a two-year food supply last five minutes-if he
bothered to chew. Her dad's new gimmick was understandable, if
under powered for the task.
"So what are you trying to protect?" Clarissa asked. The
irony of his trying to preserve the sludge mom called "health
food" was not lost on her.
"A Carvel Ice Cream Cake," Marshall said happily.
"No WAY!" Clarissa said happily. "Those are the BEST! I
thought the stores were sold outta that stuff days ago!"
"Yup," Marshall said. "But I bought one before the rush
"I woulda noticed it," Clarissa replied. If Ferguson's
eaten it, she thought angrily, I'll strangulate him.
"Nope," Marshall said, placing his hand on the palm scanner
embedded in the Magnetotron.
"IDENTITY CONFIRMED," it boomed, and the fridge door opened
with a hiss. Marshall stuck his hand into the freezer and pulled
out a box marked "Tofu Kudzu Celery Balls".
"Ick!" Clarissa said, pulling back. "That stuff's gross!
Not even Mom'll eat that... that... gelatinated goop!"
Marshall looked at her askance, raising an eyebrow. Then,
with a dramatic flick of his wrist, the box snapped back,
revealing an immaculate ice cream cake hidden inside.
"Cool," Clarissa said in awe.
"Yup," said a slightly husky voice, as a huge gloved fist
smashed into the cake, splashing bits of ice cream all over
Clarissa's face and Marshall's glasses. "Mmph," it said. "Taftes
The voice of Clifford Spleenhurfer was unmistakable.
"That kid!" Marshall said with venom, trying to wipe the
ice cream from his glasses, but succeeding only in smearing it
all over the lenses. Taking them off, he saw a huge blur heading
for his fridge. "It's like he's got a radar system built into his
stomach or something."
Marshall smiled. His new lock would teach that kid what
for. His smile faded as he realized he had left the fridge door
open while showing Clarissa the cake.
"Quit it!" Marshall said, trying to keep Clifford from
discovering the other tasty treats he had stashed in the back of
the cooler. If Janet saw those candied snacks, his life would be
a story of misery for the next few weeks. Stalin would show
"Can't talk," Clifford mumbled. "Eating." He shoved
Marshall sideways and pressed himself into the fridge. His whole
body seemed to plug up the entrance to the massive icebox.
"Hey!" Ferguson said as he walked into the kitchen. "That's
our food! Dad, stop him!"
Clarissa leaned over to Ferguson and whispered in his ear.
"Shut up, Ferg-Wad! Clifford'll eat the tofu for us."
"Yes, and the bacteria on the shelves, but he eats
everything else too!" Ferguson protested. "He eats whatever he
sees! Or is this just a fashion statement?" He pointed to a half-
chewed, ice-cream cone shaped earring on Clarissa's left ear.
Clarissa sulked as Marshall, who was feeling hot, hungry,
angry that his security system had been breached, and mad that
his beautiful ice cream cake-the one he had bought for his
family, and HIS stomach-had been defiled, finally snapped. He
shoved himself in between Clifford and the fridge.
"If you want this food," Marshall said defiantly, "You'll
have to go through me."
"Dad!" Clarissa said incredulously. Bizarre images of a Pay-
Per-View wrestling/boxing/food fight match entered her mind, with
Clifford and her dad as participants.
"Okay," Clifford said matter-of-factly and cracking his
"Clifford!" Clarissa admonished.
"It calls to me," Clifford said, entranced. "The food is my
master. It calls, and I must obey. I hunger." The heat had put
him into survival mode, deprived of whatever little reason he
"Clifford, don't do this," Clarissa began dangerously.
She'd seen this coming for quite some time. Her imminent
graduation and departure had been depressing Clifford, who,
despite his age, was still somehow classified as a Freshman. As a
result, the boy had been retreating further and further into the
arms of his first love- a good meal.
"Must. Eat." Clifford moved forward, a towering colossus of
Clarissa imagined two western style gunfighters, hands
poised at their hips, each gazing at the other with a calm,
steely-eyed look that belied their nervousness. Clifford and
Marshall, fighting for the honor of the Darling fridge.
Tension. The camera switches between the faces of the two
combatants. Somewhere, a clock strikes high noon. Then, someone
blinks, and the men explode into action.
Clarissa covered her eyes to avoid the raucous scene.
After a few minutes, she took a peek.
"And stay out!" Marshall yelled, wincing a bit, hurling a
small apple at the vanishing sight of Clifford's posterior. He
nursed his arm and turned back to his dented fridge, looking at
the remains of his shattered Magnetotron. Then he looked at his
kids, and at his wife, who had just entered the room.
Clifford, for his part, watched through the window for a
while before leaving. Spying on Darling family life was like
watching a good TV show.
"Marshall?" Janet asked in her customary
surprised/shocked/accusatory tone. Amazing, the range of emotions
the woman could pack into one word.
"The terror is finally over," Marshall said slowly, sinking
down in front of the fridge. HIS fridge. "The war... is won. The
Darling fridge is secure."
"That's nice, dear," Janet said in her trademark disenchanted/
bored/dismissive tone, completely deflating the awe and wonder of
the moment for all concerned. "Oh, look," she said, "Clifford left
All eyes turned to the only "food" item left in the fridge,
an orange-green loaf of some kind that was emitting a fetid stink.
"No wonder," Ferguson muttered quiety. Clarissa nodded in
The loaf was totally gross. It looked like a B-Movie monster had
come alive in the hideous depths of the Darling refrigerator.
Janet's eyes lit up as she extracted the loaf from its icy tomb.
Holding it close to her as a mother would her child, she took a spoon
and scooped up a bit of it. Smiling, she proffered the spoonful of
goop to her husband.
"I don't think so, honey," Marhsall said tactfully. "I'm not
very hungry right now."
Janet sighed and turned towards the fridge. Marshall sighed in
relief, but panicked as his gaze zoomed in on a microscopic particle
of ice cream cake on the fridge door. Anyone else would miss it,
but Janet had sensors for that kind of thing. If she saw it--!
"Honey!" Marshall interjected, quickly stepping between her and
the fridge. "On second thought, I'd love some." He deftly removed the
particle from the fridge by brushing his hand against it.
"You won't regret this," Janet said as the children looked on in
"I can't believe he's gonna eat it," Clarissa said in shock.
"Believe it," Ferguson said with almost Klingon stoicism.
Let's get this thing over with, Marshall thought to himself.
"Oh, Marshall," Janet gushed. "It's one of my favorites--
"Whoa," Marshall said as he took a bite of the loaf. "I think
these fumes are starting to get to me." His eyes lost focus. "Captain
America and Billy," he muttered, a psychadelic 60's beat pounding in
his brain, "thumbin' their noses at society and its roles, takin' off
on their choppers in a cloud of dust and experiencing whatever lay in
front of them."
"Dad!" Clarissa yelled. There was no effect.
"DAD!" She insisted. Marshall barely responded with a twitch.
"DAD!" Ferguson attempted.
"Dad?" Clarissa asked with concern in her voice. Something was
Deprived of his meal ticket and feeling betrayed, Clifford
had stayed away, seeking food and friendship elsewhere.
Clarissa had gone off to college a week later, and Janet,
discovering Marshall's snack reserve in the shattered remains of
the refrigerator, had cracked. In the heat of what she saw as
culinary betrayal, she had decided it was time for the whole town
to get healthy.
If her family wouldn't get the message, others would, and
then Marshall and Ferguson would learn by example. Yes, they
would learn. EVERYONE would learn. They would all die... et.
Marshall, for his part, had never quite recovered from the
Clifford snapped back to his present surroundings. "But
that Ice Cream cake sure tasted good."
Eve nodded, imagining the scene. "It was your moment of
greatest triumph. You didn't let anything stop you, not even that
"Right," Clifford said slowly, seeing the contours of
Clarissa's face in Eve's again. She was so much like Clarissa.
Much of that, of course, was by design. She was very much like
Clarissa. In fact, he mused, she was Clarissa. Just without the
capacity to tell good from evil. He liked and feared this
Clarissa. She was more like him than he was. Wow. That was a
heavy thought. Brain need food now. Eat.
"But now you just sit in front of me and whine," Eve
continued as Clifford shoved a MacDrekky's Anti-Hero sandwich in
his mouth. "What's the matter with you?"
Clifford scowled. "Nothing," he whined. "You'll never hear
me whine again, because since I'm never gonna do it again, you're
never gonna hafta hear me whine about how I'm never gonna do it
again!" Clifford guzzled a pitcher of Coca-Cola, relishing the
"After today," Eve smoothly hissed.
Clifford looked at Eve incredulously, but the last of his
reserve crumbled as she waved her sandwich right under his nose.
Grabbing it with his mouth, he devoured it. "Right."
Eve smiled dangerously. "But not the roach plan. I have a
better idea." She started to speak, then stopped as a waitress
"Can I get anybody anything?" the waitress asked.
Eve smiled and unceremoniously dumped and poured a ton of
cream and sugar into her drink as the waitress left. "See this
coffee?" she asked after a moment.
"Yeah," Clifford said slowly.
"I heard about this lady who walked into a McDonald's,
bought a 45 cent cup of coffee, gulped it down, burnt her mouth,
and said "You didn't tell me this coffee was hot! Now I've hurt
myself, and I want 28 million dollars. Twenty-Eight Million. She
Clifford's eyes lit up. "That's a lotta ding-dongs! Did it
Eve grinned. "Of course it worked! Think about it! A lady
walks into a McDonald's with pocket change, not a fake rat, not a
dead roach, but a few dimes, then cleans the place out, and they
don't lift a finger. Well, except to put a sign on their counters
that says "Warning: Coffee is hot" to keep enterprising
entrepreneurs like us from pulling the same stunt."
Clifford grinned. "So you want us to do that here?"
Eve frowned, pointing to a drool-covered sign, which was
located under the chin of a spaced out MacDrekky's employee. A
short, comically drawn gnome in whiteface grinned at the reader,
and the speech bubble near his mouth read: "Dexter MacDrexter
says `Warning: Coffee is hot.' Now that you've read this, you
can't sue us any more. Ha Ha."
"Nuts," Clifford muttered.
"Yeah," Eve confirmed. "Literacy. Ruining another perfect
plan. Sometimes I think we're too smart for our own good. But it
doesn't matter. I wasn't planning that. Merely illustrating that
if we did do it, it would be easier than what we've been doing so
Clifford frowned. "No more roaches in food, then?"
Eve shook her head. "No."
"And no more Pizza Delivery bug scares?"
"Remember what happened last time you tried that?"
Clifford nodded. "Yeah, It ain't the giggle it usta be.
Too many college kids work for Pizza Delivery services. Big
College kids. They just can't relate to the threat of high-school
bully violence. You act tough, try to scare `em, and they don't
know what it means. They fight back. Not like the Freshmen at
school. They make it too personal. We keep messin' with them,
one of `em's gonna put me in traction."
"And we can't have that, my precious Chunky Monkey. But
since Marshall Darling was your only meal ticket, and you've lost
that gold mine, we've got to support your inhuman appetite
"I'm listening," Clifford said.
"Yup," Eve said quickly. "Just like McDonald's, these
places are insured. The managers don't care, they're just trying
to get you out the door before you start trying to sue them.
Waitresses, forget it, they aren't taking a lawsuit for the man.
Customers are sitting there with food in their mouths, not
knowing what's going on. One minute they're having a Denver
omelette, the next somebody's had a slip and fall right in front
of their face."
"Slip and Fall," Clifford echoed, liking the cadence.
Eve scanned the restaurant, looking at the calmly eating
patrons, who were all lost in conversation. She smirked as she
saw the tired waitress, who was mechanically taking orders like
some worn-down robot. She would never be like that. No, Eve
Biderberg was destined for bigger and better things. A smile
broke out across her face. She turned to Clifford.
"Remember, same as before, you're crowd control, I handle
Eve picked up her coffee and saluted Clifford with it. "I
love you, Chunky Monkey."
"I love you, Money Honey," Clifford replied as Eve slowly
poured her coffee onto the floor, listening to the tinkling sound
it made. Her eyes darted to the growing tan pool of liquid on the
green-and-gold tiled floor.
Clifford slowly got up and made as if to walk to a counter.
He then stepped squarely into the spilled coffee. Eve stuck out
her foot and causally tripped him. As he hit the ground with a
massive thud, he yelled to the crowd, "Everybody be cool! I'm A-
OK!" Then he winced and groaned in exaggerated pain.
Eve jumped up and yelled to the dazed employees, holding up
her notepad. "Don't any of you wage slaves move! I'm gonna get
statements from every last one of you!"
Sam Anders could barely keep his lunch down. Jerked from
one side to the other, bounced up and down, and being subjected
to G-Forces more powerful than the ones jet fighter pilots have
to deal with, he felt like his insides were desperately trying to
become his outsides. It was all he could do to avoid re-
upholstering the tacky white seats of his reconditioned '74 Chevy
Nova a chunky acid green.
"Clarissa!" he yelped. "Will you slow down?!"
"Huh?" she asked, the wind blowing through her hair as she
gazed at the road in front of her, hands clamped around a
steering wheel, jerking them left or right as the situation
demanded. Teeth gritted, she was singularly focused, in a Zen-
like state of oneness with Sam's car. She felt herself moving
over the road, slicing through the wind, weaving through traffic
at a pedestrian 85 miles per hour. Now if only that Porsche would
get out of the way...!
"SLOW DOWN!" Sam yelled. "I dunno why I let you drive!
You're like a maniac every time you get behind the wheel! I
swear, you should race at Long Beach or something!"
Clarissa frowned and lifted her foot from the accelerator,
an action which felt incorrect somehow. The car slowed to an
Sam exhaled, feeling his heart pound against the side of
his ribcage with incredible force. "Thank you," he wheezed. "I
don't get it. If you wanted to speed so bad, why didn't you take
"Because mine is too conspicuous for this job," she
"Yeah," Sam replied sarcastically. "Look, Clarissa. The
speed limit is 35. 35. Thirty-Five. Which is about how old I
feel, considering the years you just knocked off my life!"
"I think it's torture," Clarissa retorted. "Look at your
speedometer. What's that number?" She pointed to the number at
the far right of the gauge.
"150," Sam replied tiredly. "What's your point?"
"Well, that's your car's maximum speed, right? It's total
"Yes," Sam said weakly.
"And shouldn't we all strive to achieve our full potential,
Sam? Isn't it wrong of me to limit your car by blindly obeying
some bureaucrat's narrow-minded perception of what it's full
potential should be?"
"It's a car, Clarissa, not a monk. It doesn't need to
maximize its potential."
"But the rules were written by guys who sit behind desks.
Now desks, Sam, they move slowly. Real slowly. Desk jockeys don't
understand the need for speed like I do." Clarissa gazed into
the middle distance for a moment, enthralled.
"Nobody understands your need for speed," Sam exhaled.
"I mean, you know why they do it, don't you?" Clarissa
pressed. "They make speed limits so bad drivers can look just as
good as terrific ones. If everyone's going the same speed, no one
can stand out. And by the same token, no one can look stupid.
It's enforced mediocrity, supported by middle-aged slowpokes who
are afraid to look bad next to fast-moving teenagers."
"So the speed limit's a plot by the Republican Party," Sam
exhaled tiredly. "Just don't speed, okay? I have enough to worry
about right now."
"Fine," Clarissa said, sulking for a moment. "So anyway,"
she said finally, "tell me about the Jolt."
"You mean the jolt I got when you did 100 on the exit
ramp?" Sam asked sarcastically.
"No, Sam," Clarissa replied, giving him a nasty look. "The
Jolt. Come on, I wanna hear all about it."
Sam frowned. "So whaddya want to know, Clarissa?"
Clarissa barely afforded him a sidelong glance. "Well, Jolt
is legal at Bibbington, right?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, it's legal, but it isn't a hundred
percent legal. I mean you can't walk into class, pull out a can,
and start guzzling. You're only supposed to drink it in your home
or certain designated places."
As the car pulled up to a stoplight, Clarissa turned to
look at her friend. College hadn't changed him much, but there
were bags under his eyes, and he seemed a bit weaker then when
last they had met. Of course that could just be because of her
speeding. "Designated being anywhere other than in class?"
"Yeah, it breaks down like this: it's legal to buy it, it's
legal to own it and, if you're the proprietor of a convenience
store, it's legal to sell it. It's legal to carry it, which
doesn't really matter 'cause -- get a load of this -- if the
teacher stops you, it's illegal for them to search you.
Searching you is a right that the faculty at Bibbington
College doesn't have."
Clarissa grinned at the happy news.
Jolt, as you may or may not know, is one of the four basic
food groups for computer programmers and other college kids who
live on the edge. Pizza, Ramen, and certain other beverages round
out the other three groups.
Jolt is full of caffiene, so it keeps you awake, which is
why computer geeks worldwide love it. It lets them stay up for
days on end just perfecting that latest bit of computer code.
Unfortunately, it's not terribly good for you. And so, like every
other sweet thing in my hometown, it was illegal.
Ever since mom had become a Community Councilwoman, every
kind of junk food imaginable had become contraband. In the
sixteen weeks since I'd gone off to college for the winter,
Evanston had gone from an obscure Chicago suburb known only for
its Perceptual Robotics webcam to the "healthiest town in the
The town was famous, and so was mom. She was so famous, in
fact, that she had almost absolute power over all the goings-on
in city hall. And absolute power, as Jackie Gleason said so
eloquently (or was it Napoleon?), does nothing so well as corrupt
absolutely. Let's face it-- old Janet Darling had turned into
"That does it, Sam -- I'm going there, that's all there is
to it." Clarissa grinned. "Being a Journalism major in College
means a lot of all-night study sessions, and I need Jolt to help
me stay up late. Heck, I just need the caffeine."
Sam frowned. "What about Vivarin? Or Caffiene pills? I hear
those are the in things now."
Clarissa looked at him askance. "Are you nuts, Sam? That
stuff's bad for you." She pondered for a moment before
continuing. "I just want the king of all caffinated sodas. Is
that so much to ask for? It's like nobody in this town sells the
Sam smiled slowly. "As far as I can tell, nobody does
anymore. It's your fault for choosing a two year city college
near home instead of finishing out that internship in NY with the
Clarissa bristled at the mention of her abruptly terminated
internship. "Hey! CC is just a stepping stone to the university,
Sam. As for the internship, I already told you- it just didn't
work out, that's all."
"That's all?" Sam asked, a smile playing across his face as
Clarissa started driving again.
"That's all," Clarissa said firmly. "Doesn't matter. I
already got one lined up for next summer."
"Uhh, that was your