Topiary Genetics: Part 12

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Kelli walked into their tiny common room on just shorts and a sport bra and flopped onto the comfy chair.

"It looks like you got all of the mud washed off. That was a really long shower," Leanne said.

"My hair felt so gritty," she gave an exaggerated shiver. "It was disgusting."

Leanne laughed. "It could have been way worse. Dead fish or dear guts or something like that."

"I know. I just wish we had caught one of the jerks. I feel like everyone hates us and we haven't done anything to anyone that they didn't have coming to them."

"Give it time. I've been helping Mrs. Conway, the old lady the senior center hooked me up with, after school a few days a week and she has been very complementary about us."

"That's probably because you always bake when you are over there, Leanne. By the way thanks for sneaking that apple pie in tonight. That really helped my mood."

She does love to bake. With her macular degeneration its hard for her to get the measurements right. She also likes when I read to her. You should come with sometime. I think you would like her."

" I might take you up on that," Kelli said. "I wouldn't mind helping someone who needs it and the cookies are a great incentive."

"If you really want to help the Senior Center could hook you up. There are a lot of older people around here that could use a hand. Most of them live in the older parts of town near us too."
She wanted to talk but said she would try to catch you before bed. Are you two still a thing?"

"We were never a thing, Leanne."

"Oh, please. The way you look at each other and do that silent communication thing. Everyone says two are simpatico. Like Brittney and Kaitlin or Megan and Skylar."

"She is a special friend. We woke up after the change in the same room together. We have slept together and laughed together. Like you she is one of my closest friends, but we aren't a couple. If you haven't noticed she hasn't stayed over for the last few weeks. We talked and we want to be friends more than lovers.I think we are both very bisexual and want to try out everything. I think her and her band mates may be getting very close. I've been flirting with Madison but I'd really like to try out a guy."

"Well good luck with that." Leanne laughed. "Both Hailey and Principle are big on keeping us away from the town boys."

"That's not totally true. Hailey said that she just needs to meet their parents and we would have an 11:00 curfew. They actually want us to form good relations with the town. Just not so good that we steal all the guys from the local girls. Not to worry. I can wait until college if I need to."

"I have to admit," Leanne said. "Sometimes I wish I were just a little into girls when I see people snuggling together in the lounge. Its great to have friends but I'm a little lonely."

"Oh, sweety! Not everyone snuggled up is having sex. Is that what you were thinking? The need for touch is a real thing and I feel terrible for not paying better attention. Get your brush and I will brush your hair for you. Maybe give you a neck rub. I promise no funny business."

***

"Guys. I don't think people will show up just to here our school bands play. Nobody outside of us really know how amazing the different groups are," Nicole said. She was eating lunch with Kelli, Brittney, Kaitlin and several of the other girls in charge of organizing the festival activities for the school. "I think we need to add some outside groups."

"That sounds great," Kaitlin said. "How are you going to get them."

"I don't know. I can try to round up some prize money and convert the concert into an all day battle of the bands. That might bring in some of the bands from the university. They are only thirty miles from here. Maybe talk to Mr. Dawkins. He was in a somewhat successful group back in the mid 2000's. Maybe he will have an idea."

"Whatever you think can do to make it a success we will help," Brittney said. "You come up with a plan and we will get some volunteers to help."

"I think us band girls and maybe the theater club should be on this one. The theater club was going to do sound and lighting anyway. Don't worry, I got this."

***

Later that evening in Nicole's room, while she was trying to relax with the other members of the her band she brought up the problem. "I am so screwed. I talked to Mr. Dawkins and he said that he would be happy to help us but for a really good amount of interest from other bands we would need at least five grand in prizes. He said if we could come up with at least that much he would make some calls to some old friends to recruit some celebrity judges."

"Who can he get?" Alana asked.

"How the hell should I know?" Nikki growled. "When 'Atomic Tomatoes' were popular with all the young girls I was listening to oldies and worrying about my retirement fund."

The girls worked out the shell of a plan and met with the other band girls before lights out to get their opinions and agreement. With just over 20 girls available Nicole divided the work among them. Girls who were already working on other projects became the phone solicitors. That left Nikki with six girls for face to face begging. Tomorrow at lunch she and maybe a couple of others would go off campus to see what Holton's Music was willing to do. Samantha, her lead guitarist pretty much had Mr. Holton wrapped around her finger. He always seemed to get a kick out of it when she showed up after school in her uniform and asked to play his old Rickenbacker Model 360. Samantha was an amazing player and had been classically trained before she became involved with Topiary Genetics. She kenew how to play jazz and flamenco as well as bluegrass and rock.

***

"...So we can list you as the main sponsor and you will be able to write off the full value of the donation," Nicole was saying as Samantha eyed the guitar amps on display."

"You should think about going into sales. Let me look in the store room I think I have a few high end things that I need to get off of the books. People around here just can't afford the really nice stuff anymore."

In the end Mr. Holten donated a wireless microphone, a Gibson Les Paul with the premium cherry sunburst finish worth more than $3000 and five $100 store credit vouchers. Nicole had convinced him throw throw in the store credits to get the bands to try his store. It was an extreamly well stocked music store, more because Mr. Holten was an enthusiast than because he was making a great amount of sales. He even offered the use of some of his rental equipment for free so that they could set up a second stage.

When Nikki met again that evening with the others several girls had been successful in getting sponsors. She was amazed that they had been able to secure all of the donations that they needed in just one day. All together they had come in just short of $9000 to award in prizes if you took the retail value of the donated items into account. Nikki couldn't wait to talk to Mr. Dawkins in the morning.

***

Nicole rushed through her morning routine after early P.E. She wanted to be sure to be at the door to the band room before Mr. Dawkins arrived. This had started as a way to bring together the community but she found that she was really enjoying her new leadership role.

"What are you doing here, Nicole?" asked Mr. Dawkins. He was surprised to see her here so early. He thought it was probably because she was not having much luck with donations.

"We rounded up the donations that you said we would need. I wanted to give you as much time as I could to make the calls that you promised to make."

"Really? I didn't expect you to be able to raise five grand so quickly. Lets set down and you can tell me about it." Mr Dawkins unlocked the door and led Nikki to the side of the room away from the instruction space where he had his desk.

"Well it's closer to nine," Nicole said before explaining all of the different donations that the band girls had been able to come up with.

"Wow! I must say I am amazed. I'll make the calls after lunch. With any luck some of the people will talk to me. I didn't exactly leave the business on good terms with everyone. A little fame can turn you into a real jackass. Remember that for when you're famous young lady."

"Don't be silly. We just want to be cover band to earn extra money through college. Fame and me would not get along."

Nicole left Mr. Dawkins sitting at his desk shaking his head at the beautiful teens parting words. He would need to work harder on encouraging those girls. They had so much more potential as performers than any number of popular music groups. In his experience stunning good looks plus above average ability should be enough to get them a deal if they wanted it enough.

* * *

Holly was eating lunch at her desk. She had been looking at the latest data on the rate the new girls had been adapting themselves to social norms. It was really too bad that her work was only available to a small circle of people with the proper security clearances. It would be interesting to learn what her colleagues would have to say about her study. Her phone vibrated and she glanced at it. It was Simon so she couldn't just let it go to voice mail as she would have preferred. In spite of the interruption she was always happy to talk to her brother.

"What's up, bro," she said.

"Hey Holly, I need to pick your brain before I make a decision. Got a minute?"

"Always for you, Simon."

"Great. My guys have done everything they can without letting anyone outside the organization know we are planning something. Before I pull the trigger I want to know how the girls are doing with the PR issue. If need be I will happily buy that local factory and find reasons to not rehire ate relatives of the troublemakers. The investigators have come up with some dirt on the adults that can also be used to crush them. I would hate to do it and there would be some push-back but we can't give in on something that concerns the long term safety of the girls or this project. Even that is better than the option of letting General Richardson's group handle it. He seems like the kind that would go too far."

"In that case I have great news. There was a triggering incident last week that got the media on our side. Sympathy for the girls had been on the upswing anyway, however it skyrocketed after two of our girls had buckets of mud dumped on them while a local reporter happened to be photographing them. You should probably read the report Hailey is planning to send on Monday after the festival. It will have all the supporting material attached. Anyway I would advise you to hold off on doing anything."

"That is excellent news. It would have really strained our budget to buy the factory. The R.O.I. was not great. At best we would manage to break even in seven years or so. I am thinking of coming in tomorrow to see the girls in action. Will it be worth my time?"

"You've never been a small town festival kind of guy. I would love to see you again though. I miss my little brother. How about I give you an overview and you decide for yourself."

"I miss you too, sis. If it is any consolation, your work will guide our efforts as we go forward. It's critical that we be able to predict how the mental state of our future clients will be affected by the changes brought on by Daniels process. I wouldn't trust anyone else to keep an eye on our girls even if we could find anyone as good as you.

"Aww, that's sweet. It's also a load of crap,” Holly said. “Okay, so tonight our girls have been invited to the football game and the dance that follows by the public high school student council. It's a good will gesture on their part. Tomorrow morning is the big parade. Some of the girls managed to put together a nice float and a bunch of girls have volunteered to walk along with it and pass out candy to the kids."

Holly continued. "We also will have a car show which got a lot more interest than I expected. Emily, the club president told me she had received lots of inquires from individuals and collector clubs wanting to enter after they asked there contacts to personally call people that they knew of with show cars. She expects at least one hundred cars. Luckily we have the room in the school lots to accommodate that many and more. It helps that the news has really played up the orphans helping veterans angle. During the show the different student groups will have the usual sorts of booths set up games, hotdogs, popcorn and whatnot. When the car show ends at two we have an hour to get ready for the battle of the bands.

"Somehow Nicole, our spokesperson and the music teacher managed to talk Lindsay Beacon, into coming down see the bands play. She's a nationally syndicated music critic out of Indianapolis. With all of the things going on at the main Fest just a couple blocks away on Main street I think it will actually be a pretty good day."

"Alright you have convinced me to come. I want to see you too and it wouldn't hurt to talk to some people personally. When we were spending millions redoing the school they were much nicer. It wouldn't hurt remind them that the school is a great benefit to the local economy."

"It may mean more coming from you. They should know though. Hailey tells them often enough. She was a good choice to be the dean of students. That lady is never afraid to take a fight if she feels justified."

"I have always been lucky to have great people working with me, sis. Starting with Daniel and you. I'll see you tomorrow. Take care."

* * *

It turned out that Mr. Dawkins was able to get a fairly well know media critic from Indianapolis to judge the contest. She had been the publicist for his band Atomic Tomatoes back in the day. He had also been surprised that the Tomatoes' lead singer Curt Bonny had agreed to drive in from Chicago where he had been living since his solo career stalled after the band broke up. Trevor Dawkins and Curt Bonny had been the two biggest personalities in the group. They had not parted on the best of terms but neither of them remembered the exact details anymore. Mr. Dawkins and Mr. Holten would also act as judges.

In order for there to be no hint of favoritism it had been agreed that the Sutton bands would play twenty minute long filler sets throughout the day long battle on the side stage while the competitors set up on the main stage at the other end of the athletic field. that way they could play for the crowd but would not be eligible to win any prizes. The girls were actually okay with that arrangement because it took the pressure off of them to win and they could just enjoy the experience.

With the five Sutton bands and eight local and regional bands signed up it looked like the battle would be a success. During the last week before the event it had been heavily promoted by area television and radio stations. Nicole suspected that the Topiary executives had reached out to their network of friends to get the extra coverage. She was not wrong but is didn't hurt that she was the spokesperson for the event.

* *

Kelli had not been to a football game in forever. After the public had invited the entire Sutton student body to the game and the post game dance she had become excited about the idea. She and Nicole had jogged over to Jennifer and Nate's house to make sure that their friends would be there.

Nate had summed up his attitude when he had asked, "Why would I want to go watch guys I don't like play a game I don't like when I could be playing video games with my friends?"

"So you can socialize with other people. Make new friends."

"Not going," he had replied.

"Nate, are you gay?" Nicole asked. Jennifer started laughing. "Not judging, nobody can choose who they are attracted to but I had thought from some of the looks I get when we play..."

"According to his browser history he is definitely not gay," Jen interrupted, laughing even harder at her brothers discomfort.

"Hey! That's private," Nate said indignantly. "I'm not gay. And some people need to not be so nosy. Why would you think I am gay?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Kelli said. "You are one of the few boys that know any of us. Here is your chance to hang out with like two hundred hot, lonely girls. Let me explain it in a way that might be easier to comprehend. You have nerd cred, have you watched 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail?'"

"Sure."

"Do you remember the scene on the convent?"

"With the sex crazed nuns? Yeah."

"We are kind of like that, ya dumb-ass," Kelli said running her hand suggestively on his chest. "Come to the game and bring your nerd friends. Remind them that one needs to talk to girls to actually get a girlfriend."

"Uh..."

Nicole took pity on Nate. She liked him as a friend, he was smart, funny and cute. He did lack confidence and Kelli calling him a dumb-ass probably had not helped. "Please come and bring the guys. I will make sure that everyone gets introduced around. Who knows? You might meet someone who thinks you are amazing."

Jennifer laughed even harder at the look on Nate's face. He looked equally captivated and terrified with the prospect of meeting all of those girls.

* *

After getting Nate to promise to bring the D&D crew Kelli and Nicole made plans with Jen to meet at the game. Jennifer was planning to go with her two best friends Sydney and Lauren. This would be the first game she had gone to since the trouble with her ex boyfriend Dylan. He had been one of the starters but now was off the team. Since then she had not really had much of a social life at all.

"I hope this goes okay. People have not really been nice to me lately. You'd think I was the one that did something wrong. At least I know who my real friends are now."

"Most people suck anyway," Kelli said. "Has anyone tried to hurt you?"

"No, but they egged my car and wrote some nasty things on the windows with soap. They threw toilet paper into our trees and not many people even say hi at school anymore."

"I think things are about to change," Nicole said. "People are starting to think those guys deserve what they got and their supporters are even worse bullies. All of us have agreed that we are going to be extra nice and friendly to everyone we meet."

"I saw the pictures of you two in the paper. I have to say that I hate you both a little for being able to look good even covered in mud."

"You look good. You just don't give yourself credit," Kelli said. "Seriously Jen, all that you lack is a little self confidence to put you over the top. You dress well, you arent overweight and you have a really pretty face. You just need to own it."

"We have a thousand things to do to get ready," Nicole said moving toward the door. "We'll see you at the game."

***

With the addition of the Sutton students the stands were packed. Kelli was wearing jeans and a cute tee umder her Sutton hoodie. They had arrived well before the kickoff and all of the Sutton girls had been pleasant to everyone that they talked to. A couple of times boys had yelled lewd suggestions at them from a distance but they had all agreed in advance to not respond. Hailey had even made an announcement that anyone caught feeding the trolls would regret it. Some of the comments from the local girls were harder to deal with. It was difficult not to respond to nasty with nasty however having a previous lifetime of experience definitely gave them an advantage a real group of teens wouldn't have enjoyed. Most people were quite friendly though.

Kelli and Nicloe had split off from their friends in order to work the crowd before kickoff. By now they were on good speaking terms with many of the adult community leaders. As the two wandered around behind the bleachers to get some popcorn they were stopped by Maryanne York from the Fall Fest Committee.

"Hi girls. I'm so happy we bumped into you. I want you to meet a friend of mine, Beth Watts. Beth these two young ladies are Kelli Bellamy and Nicole Lawson."

The ladies greeted each other the Sutton girls hugging Maryanne and shaking hands with Beth.

"Nikki and Kelli have been working closely with the us on the fall fest. In fact I think that because of them and the rest of the Sutton girls we are going to have much bigger attendance this year. Nicole has been a great spokesperson."

"I've heard good things about what you girls have accomplished. I could not have done better myself," Beth said.

"I forgot to mention Beth is an Executive VP for Schwartz and Stockton. A PR firm in Chicago. We went to high school together but she went off to the big city and now just visits occasionally."

"I guess Maryanne has told you about us then."

"Yes she has. Bringing in the Veterans on your side was a great move. You have to be real scum to badmouth orphans who are trying to help vets."

"That thought may have cross our minds," Nicole said with a grin. "Beth, if you are around tomorrow please stop by the school. We'll make sure you get a chance to tour the old place. It probably changed a bunch with all of the renovations they did for us. Ask for Hailey Benton she is the dean or Mr. Weinberger the principal they will be able to find us."

"That sounds fun. I'm visiting my brother's family this weekend and we may take you up on that."

"Great, we will hope to see you there."

Kelli and Nicole moved on around toward the concession stand.

Kelli saw Brandon and Mike, couple of younger guys from the VFW that she recognized and waved. They were standing with a group of guys that looked to be mostly in their mid twenties to early thirties. One of them motioned her and Nicole over to the group.

"Guys this is Kelli and Nikki, a couple of the girls that we were just talking about," Brandon said gesturing to them. "Kelli, maybe you can help us understand somethin'. The newspaper said that after you and your friend got mud dumped on you that you two lit out after them. Lance over there, he was wondering what y'all were gonna do with 'em if ya caught 'em?" Most of the guys chuckles as if what Brandon said was the funniest thing ever.

"We would have kicked there asses," Kelli said favoring lance with a big smile.

"You mean, you would have tried," Lance replied.

"Nope. Pretty sure I meant what I said."

"There is no way. Not against those boys."

Nikki let out a laugh at that. Because of the troubles Hailey had been teaching an extra self defense class every day. For all of her tiny build Kelli was one of the best among them at anything to do with fighting.

"You sound like you know them," Kelli said.

"Well if I did I wouldn't tell. Still, you are so tiny you don't look like you could hurt a fly. Ya know, a pretty little girl like you should also know better than to tell tall tales."

Kelli took a moment to judge how the others were reacting to Lance. She did not think he realized how big of a jerk he was being. The other guys in the group had subtly moved away from him. Lance was a pretty big guy, he was starting to go bald, had a bit of a beer belly but he looked like he had been pretty hot back in the day. Probably was an athlete in high school. She decided that she could afford to take a little chance.

"Hmmm," she frowned. "Are you up for a friendly little demonstration? I'll try not to hurt you."

"What kind of demonstration," Lance asked warily. He wouldn't want to hurt a little girl.

"You try to take a swing at me. Open hand, we want to keep things friendly. If I get the upper hand within fifteen seconds you buy my popcorn and soda."

"What do I get if I win?"

"The satisfaction of slapping my pretty lying face," she smirked.

"I am not going to hit a girl."

"I said open hand but that is a pretty good excuse to avoid being embarrassed. Anyone else want to try?"

"I will give it a shot," Mike, one of the vets said with a grin.

Kelli thought he had been a marine or a ranger or something like that. She was pretty sure the school's training was not up to beating him but what the hell. She was not about to back out of her boast now. “Sounds good, Mike.”

"No, Mike. I was just trying to avoid a problem," Lance said. "I suppose if it is open hand and she is actually asking for it then I guess I can do it. You aren't gonna go crying to the police when you get slapped are you girly?"

“Nope. Unless one of us goes to the hospital I think it's all good.”

“I've got that on video for what it's worth,” Brandon said.

Kelli was glad that Lance had changed his mind. She assumed that Mike, the veteran had known how Lance would react to his offer to step in. She gave Mike a little nod and walked to a position in front of Lance. "Alright big boy, let's see what you've got." She could tell he was getting worked up as the other guys teased him as friends do.

Lance looked her in the eye for a second faking a couple of swings before sending an openhanded roundhouse her way. It was as if he wanted to knock her head off and not just win the bet by delivering a quick slap. His desire to go big helped Kelli out a lot. She was confident that she could handle anything he did but the way his face had scrunched up right before he began his swing had given her plenty of time to act. She quickly ducked under the path of the blow and moved behind Lance. She grabbed his hair with her left hand while reaching around to place her palm under lances nose. She used pressure on his nose to guide him backward until she had him on the ground then she delivered three quick mock blows to his face and jumped back out of his reach. Once it was clear that she could have got away she walked forward to offer him a hand up.

"That's the kind of stuff we learn in self defense class."

Lance laughed as he accepted the hand up. "I've got to admit you have skills. If those are the moves you used on my cousin it is no wonder he told us the story that he did."

That explained his earlier dickishness, Nicole thought. This was a golden opportunity to make a friend in that family. "If it is any consolation Kelli is one of the best of us at self defense. She is so quick that most of us usually can't touch her, even if she does hit like a girl."

"I suppose that's something anyway," Lance said ruefully.

The two then spent a few minutes showing them how Kelli had been able to best the bigger man before claiming hunger and telling them all how nice it was to meet them.

"Come on. Let's go get this bet paid off. Popcorn and a pop wasn't it?" Lance said. His earlier sour disposition had been replaced by what was probably his normal easygoing personality. In line at the concession he introduced Kelli and Nicole to several people and related the story of their little demonstration more than once before they reached the front of the line. It was like he was proud of them or something. Guys could be so weird! When they finally parted the girls felt that they had made a convert in the enemy camp.

* *

On the way back to the stands they found Nate and his friends and brought them back to the area of bleachers that their friends had staked out.

Because they had played Dungeons and Dragons one Sunday at the school the guys had met most of Nicole's friends at least once. Nikki made sure that they all got paired up with someone to sit with. All of the girls had volunteered to help her make sure that the boys had a good time. When she had asked around at lunch Lexi , a pretty dark haired girl with bright blue eyes who she usually didn't hang out with said, 'Sure it will be fun to just flirt and watch him blush. Count me in.' She been sure to make the girls promise to be nice to her D&D friends.

"Kyle," Nicole said to one of the guys. "This is Lexi, she told me that she wants to hang out tonight with a nice boy. You're nice, so you sit with her. After the game you can go to the dance together."

"Um... I don't dance."

Lexi looked at Nicole who shrugged. "Is it a religious thing?" She asked.

"No."

Lexi grinned. "Okay it is settled then. I'll teach you how to dance."

"But I am really not that coordinated."

"Sweetie, relax. It's a school dance, not Dancing with the Stars."

"It's just..."

"Is it because I am not pretty enough? Do you not want to be seen with me" Lexi said which was ridiculous because she was gorgeous.

"Oh god no. But you are way out of my league." The poor guy was so red that Kelli thought he might have a stroke right there.

"Look Kyle, you seem nice enough but we need to get a few things straight. And you others listen up too because Nicole has found friends for all of you to hang out with," she said to the four other guys in the group. "I am the only one who can decide who is in my league. If you don't make the effort to interact with me I'll never get the chance to decide. So Kyle and the rest of you are going to hang out with us girls and you are going to dance and we will all see if we like each other. It will be fun and the fun begins now. Got it?"

The boys all nodded.

"Great. Nikki would you please continue the introductions?" Lexi said demurely.

***

After the game they attended the dance in the High School cafeteria. Nicole had chosen Nate as her date which had pleased her friend Jennifer. She was a good sister and wanted her brother to be more popular. There was no way that his reputation would be hurt by being seen with Nicole. As far as Jen was concerned the girls at Sutton could do no wrong. Over the past weeks as her own class mates had been ignoring her. To a lesser extent Lauren and Sydney had been excluded too, they had been meeting more of the girls from Sutton and really liked them. At first she had been hurt that Nicole didn't have a lot of time to hang out but Olivia had shown Jen Nicole's schedule and told her about the charm offensive that they were involved in and she had begun to feel better about not seeing her new friend.

At the dance there weren't any incidents and several of the Sutton girls had made the acquaintance of various town kids. The rules that Brittney and Kaitlin had drummed into their heads were that they should be nice to everyone and to avoid any boys that seemed to be in a relationship. They knew that nothing would hurt them faster than if the Sutton girls developed a reputation as boyfriend thieves.

By the end of the evening the Nicole's D&D boys had all learned to dance and plenty of photos were taken by them after the guys had stopped being stunned by this unusual turn of events. Kelli had danced with all of them impartially as had many of their other friends. Nicole had even given Nate a good night kiss before Hailey gathered them all up for the walk back to the Sutton School.



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