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Bullies, Beasts & Beauties by Isabella Morris

He also started shrugging off his coat and undoing his scarf. He only turned when the pounding of feet got close enough behind him, and one of the grunts cried out upon seeing him. They trampled forward and suddenly skidded to a halt into a busy clamor of bodies in front of him. Some hands reached out from the group, attempting to pull on him.

Security plowed into them from behind, starting to yank them by their arms and collars. Everything erupted into shouting. A scuffle broke out when one security officer tried to grab Plumeria by the shoulder, but as Guzma processed this flood of activity, he interrupted before it could explode into a full-on riot. He roared. Cut it out! Gradually, the movement slowed to a still; grunts froze and the security officers clung to their shirts. Looking mightily peeved, Guzma gave them all a brief glance and shook his head. To the grunts' surprise, Guzma's command was followed; the team backed off, dropping their hold on them, and with another bark, they and the lab coat were sent away.

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The grunts marveled for a moment, basking in their boss's newfound ability to command authority figures. He didn't look amused, or very happy to see them. He kept darting his eyes around, like he expected a trap. He finally noticed Plumeria's presence, and gave her a vulnerable, almost ashamed look. His eyes rolled up with intense thought, then he swivelled his head about, looking for any sign of Lusamine. Seeing none of her, he sighed and motioned for them to move with him. We'll go to my suite. Don't do nothin' stupid, all right? To Guzma's very evident dismay, the grunts scattered through his suite immediately upon entering, touching, manhandling, and upturning his belongings.

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Plumeria didn't run, but didn't acknowledge him either. She followed in after them, stuffing her hands into her pockets, and while they scurried about, she planted herself on the chair at the small dining table. Even the ones who had preached loudest against his selling out found it easy to enjoy the fruits of his betrayal: they collapsed onto his furniture, pawed at his boxes of brand-new clothing, pulled bottles of beer from his fridge, and leaped for his entertainment and sound system.

A large, brilliantly-colored congratulatory bouquet sent by the Board of Directors sat on the counter in the kitchen; Guzma had never in his life received a bouquet, so he didn't know what to do with it. Some female grunts found it and, in short order, tore apart the arrangement in their attempt to admire it. They settled into seats, or sat on pillows on the floor, and babbled loud and hard. While a few of the kids arranged themselves at the TV for a tournament, someone else had figured out the sound system, and before he could interrupt, they momentarily blasted the pure, heavenly melancholy of a piano nocturne.

Guzma barely, just barely, kept himself from starting an argument over it. This was all wrong. Too intimate. Lusamine played piano; he discovered this one day after visiting her mansion and coming across the music room, and found her seated before the grand instrument, her hands dancing over the vast swathe of keys. He was so captivated that he stood there, watching, not daring to interrupt. He memorized the piece she played, down to every note, until he could figure out its name and find a recording. He still held the remote, still strained to hear a few more notes.

The whining started to mix with the sound of the video game system, which the others promptly started playing. Without saying anything more, Guzma switched it off, shuffled through his playlist, and selected an appropriately rhythmic, bass-thudding song.

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The choice appeased them, and they spoke no more on it, though his head still tickled ivories a little, at the back of his brain. The younger grunts occupied themselves fairly easily with the entertainment system, leaving the several oldest to sit in a small circle about him, sipping beer and trying to get his story out of him. Plumeria remained in her seat outside of it, and hadn't made any attempt at involving herself in the conversation, but none of them paid it any mind.

Chops and Bully talked the most.

Bullies, Beasts & Beauties

They were the definition of drinking buddies; that is, they were only his buddies when they were drinking. They had always deluded themselves into thinking them closest to Guzma, though even as older grunts, they were several years below his age. They were usually funny and irreverent enough to put up with. As they blathered, Guzma found time to think about things, primarily about how this all felt. Now that they were here, he felt himself falling easily back into old patterns, sitting with his legs relaxed and splayed out, slouching, slurring his answers, laughing at bad jokes.

That it happened so quickly and easily unnerved him. This thought made him frown and flick his eyes over the room. As comfortable as he was becoming, he also felt that unreachable itch again. A sense of separation.

Like he didn't fully recognize them, nor they, him. Caught 'em. Bully nodded gravely to him, then to Chops, and declared, "You shoulda asked us for help. We woulda backed you, fam. Guzma took it as a well-meaning joke, but another part of him was irked by it. He swallowed down his irritation. Chops, though, reasoned it out.

Guzma, surprised, looked over at Plumeria, who occupied herself with her phone and ignored them. She ain't no girl," Guzma contradicted. Plus, she's older than all o' you.

caltysendisc.ml Bully, unhappy that he had not received Guzma's blessing to take over the gang, slouched even further back in his seat. Just 'cause y'all were an item. The sly comment, this time, was not taken as a joke. The circle quieted as they saw Guzma's posture change, stiffening and readying for a fight.

By the time Guzma realized what she was doing, it was too late. For a horrible, unfathomable moment, Guzma froze in his seat. He could see her from where he was, and thoughts flew through his brain at light speed, smashing into each other, making his expression twitch and change.

When he powered past his shock and stood to his feet, he rushed over to the door, grabbed Zazi by the arm, and shoved her back into the room, ignoring her complaining. Frantically, he tried to read her expression. But Lusamine, smiling sweetly, touched his arm and brushed past him at his shoulder. She stood before the living area, gazing out on the gaggle of children. She beamed at them. What an interesting group you've chosen to host. Team Skull, in all their snot-nosed, vulgar glory, sat completely still in their seats, mute and stiffly attentive.

The room suddenly felt much like a classroom with the principal walking through; no one breathed so much as an errant syllable. She smiled down on them with a vibrant glow. Plumeria said nothing, keeping stone-faced. Though Lusamine read the resentment in her, the woman gave no attention to it.